Artificial Intelligence

In the summer of 1956, at a conference on the campus of Dartmouth College, the field of AI research was born. Those who attended would become the leaders of AI research for many decades, especially John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell and Herbert Simon, who founded AI laboratories at MIT, CMU and Stanford. They and their students wrote programs that were, to most people, simply astonishing: computers were solving word problems in algebra, proving logical theorems and speaking English. By the middle 60s their research was heavily funded by DARPA and they were optimistic about the future of the new field.

In the 90s and early 21st century AI achieved its greatest successes, albeit somewhat behind the scenes. Artificial intelligence was adopted throughout the technology industry, providing the heavy lifting for logistics, data mining, medical diagnosis and many other areas. The success was due to several factors: the incredible power of computers today (see Moore's law), a greater emphasis on solving specific subproblems, the creation of new ties between AI and other fields working on similar problems, and above all a new commitment by researchers to solid mathematical methods and rigorous scientific standards.

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Early AI researchers developed algorithms that imitated the process of conscious, step-by-step reasoning that human beings use when they solve puzzles, play board games, or make logical deductions. These early methods were unable to handle incomplete or imprecise information but by the late 80s and 90s, AI research developed highly successful methods for dealing with uncertainty, employing concepts from probability and economics.

Many of the problems machines are expected to solve will require extensive knowledge about the world. Among the things that AI needs to represent are: objects, properties, categories and relations between objects; situations, events, states and time; causes and effects; knowledge about knowledge (what we know about what other people know); and many other, less well researched domains.

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Machine perception is the ability to use input from sensors (such as cameras, microphones, sonar and others more exotic) to deduce aspects of the world. Computer vision is the ability to analyze visual input. A few selected subproblems are speech recognition, facial recognition and object recognition.

Most researchers hope that their work will eventually be incorporated into a machine with general intelligence (known as strong AI), combining all the skills above and exceeding human abilities at most or all of them. A few believe that anthropomorphic features like artificial consciousness or an artificial brain may be required for such a project.

Many of the problems above are considered AI-complete: to solve one problem, you must solve them all. For example, even a straightforward, specific task like machine translation requires that the machine follow the author's argument (reason), know what it's talking about (knowledge), and faithfully reproduce the author's intention (social intelligence). Machine translation, therefore, is believed to be AI-complete: it may require strong AI to be done as well as humans can do it.