The history of AI

James McCoull travels back to a time when AI was simply science fiction

James McCoull
13th March 2017

We’re a compulsively lonely species, it seems. We build houses big enough for families, towns big enough for communities, and nations big enough for whole cultures just for the sake of some company during our time on Earth. We domesticate animals and send out messages to the stars, hoping in each case that we’ll get something back. And when all else fails – we build someone to talk to, from the ground up.

The idea of AI began much less recently than our modern definition would imply. The ancient world often dreamed of statues imbued with thought and feeling, or living clay golems, which would walk autonomously. Fiction has always had some semblance of the theory behind AI to it, born from what artificial intelligence scholar Pamela McCorduck called ‘an ancient wish to build the gods.’ Later, fact started to catch up with that dream; the 20th century saw the advent of slow and basic – yet undeniably earnest – attempts to craft computers capable of mimicking elements of human behaviour. In the 1950’s, computers were developed which were capable of playing chess, applying logic and strategy the way a human player would. As technology progressed, more ambitious computers were developed towards various different tasks, up to the personal assistant-style pocket AIs we have today, supercomputers used to compile unfathomable masses of scientific data, and even enemies in video games which can flank and corner human players with real-time application of military tactics.

In an astonishingly short window of time AI has gone from sci-fi dreams to a reality, weaving its way into every aspect of our lives in ways both subtle and visible. And we can only expect this to increase. Many roboticists theorise that AIs capable of performing human jobs will have a profound effect on the ecoWWWnomy – at the end of the day, we’re not that special, and we’re very good at making things to perform a task better than we can. But what else does the future hold?

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