WHAT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ISN’T ... AND IS
Artificial intelligence (AI) is not new. The term was coined in 1956 by John McCarthy, a Stanford computer science professor who organised an academic conference on the topic at Dartmouth College in the summer of that year.
The field of AI has gone through a series of boom-bust cycles since then, characterised by technological breakthroughs that stirred activity and excitement about the topic, followed by subsequent periods of disillusionment and disinterest known as ‘AI Winters’ as technical limitations were discovered.
Artificial intelligence can be defined as human intelligence exhibited by machines; systems that approximate, mimic, replicate, automate, and eventually improve on human thinking.
Throughout the past half-century, a few key components of AI were established as essential: the ability to perceive, understand, learn, problem solve, and reason. Countless working definitions of AI have been proposed over the years but the unifying thread in all of them is that computers with the right software can be used to solve the kind of problems that humans solve, interact with humans and the world as humans do, and create ideas like humans.
In other words, while the mechanisms that give rise to AI are ‘artificial’, the intelligence to which AI is intended to approximate is indistinguishable from human intelligence.
In the early days of the science, processing inputs from the outside world required extensive programming, which limited early AI systems to a very narrow set of inputs and conditions.
However, since then, computer science has worked to advance the capability of AI-enabled computing systems. Board games have long been a proving ground for AI research, as they typically involve a finite number of players, rules, objectives, and possible moves. This essentially means that games – one by one, including checkers, backgammon, and even Jeopardy! to name a few – have been taken over by AI.
Most famously, in 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, the then reigning world champion of chess. This trajectory persists with the ancient Chinese game of Go, and the defeat of reigning world champion Lee Sedol by DeepMind’s AlphaGo in March 2016.