4 Early Artificial Intelligence Inspirations

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been incorporated into today’s society as a tool to simplify and improve— among other things— our lifestyles. There has been substantial progress in creating more complex artificial intelligence in the past decade. Many of these advancements, however, weren’t originally imagined in a lab or by logical design. They actually originated from the creativity of forward thinkers who were passionate about technology.

Alan Turing Computing

AI is defined in several different ways, as its meaning or purpose continues to change over time. Presently, Merriam-Webster has two definitions: AI is (1) a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers, and (2) the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. These definitions reflect the way AI currently is being utilized (e.g., Siri and the Google self-driving cars), but these are only limited examples of the fuller AI picture.

Narrow AI systems can perform specific tasks at or above the human skill level, but most people are awaiting the arrival of “thinking machines” that use artificial general intelligence (AGI). These will be able to perform multiple unrelated tasks with equal or above human intelligence. Unfortunately, the development of true AGI seems to be a way off. It was only 50 years ago that AI was merely a glimmer of an idea. Today, its use and potential are growing tremendously. What could be possible in the next 50 years?

Listed here are some memorable milestones regarding the development of AI in our lives.

Alan Turing: Ahead of His Time

In 1950, just as computers were being built and AI wasn’t even a concept, Alan Turing asked a provocative question, “Can machines think?” Alan Turing was a mathematician who created the Turing Test, a variation of the imitation game to determine if a machine was thinking or not.

In the test, an interrogator must distinguish if a respondent is a machine or a person. The interrogator cannot see or hear the respondent, but reads the answers and determines if they were produced by a human or not. Today, the Turing Test still can determine between a person and AI, though it is becoming more difficult to distinguish between the two as AI continues to advance. Thanks to Alan Turing, AI research was given a direction and a goal.

Three Laws of Robotics: An Ethical Compass for AI

In 1950, during the same time as Alan Turing, Isaac Asimov published a collection of short stories called I, Robot. Asimov was a Russian-American who wore many hats. He was a renowned author, biochemist, and historian. He is still considered an utmost expert in science fiction, and gave the world the “Three Laws of Robotics”.

The three laws were unbreakable rules designed to govern a robot’s fundamental behavior. They worked so well together that they would become a basis for AI research. The laws were layered to create options, but only if the implementation of AI (the robot) met certain safety standards. The laws were: (1) A robot cannot harm a human being or allow a human being to be harmed. (2) A robot must obey humans without conflicting with the first law. (3) A robot must protect its own existence without conflicting with the first or second law.

HAL 9000 and the Newspad — 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick released the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It featured an AI system as the protagonist. HAL 9000 (Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer) was the brains of a spaceship that learns self-preservation and malice, and kills multiple astronauts throughout the film.

Even though this AI system was considered “evil,” it opened the door for the invention of AI that could master a complex set of systems in order to relieve humans of those responsibilities. HAL 9000 inspired scientists to create comprehensive AI advancements that ultimately resulted in devices such as the Amazon Echo of today.

2001: A Space Odyssey also featured a gentleman reading a “newspad” to catch up on the events of the day. It took nearly 40 years, but today we see the film’s invention in the iPads and tablets that are commonplace throughout society.

Norbert Wiener: Inventor of Cybernetics

Norbert Wiener published the book, Cybernetics, in 1948. He was a mathematician who inspired scientists to think of technology as an extension of human potential. After experimenting with anti-aircraft systems in WWII, he applied his knowledge to create cybernetics, the study of electronics and man working together.

Weiner worked with guided missiles, developing systems that would anticipate the approach of enemy planes with better accuracy and precision. His work would spawn sophisticated military defense systems, and it still influences modern defense technologies.

AI isn’t quite what people imagined it would be by now, but the world is well on its way toward making AI’s most exciting fiction into reality. It was Alan Turing who brought the power of imagination to innovate new science, research, and technology. It may take time to realize the seemingly limitless potential of AI, but the achievement of inspired goals is what drives invention—and the human spirit.

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New Jersey Institute of Technology offers an online master in computer science program so students can learn the latest concepts and techniques in Computer Science, and develop the skills to take the world in imaginative new directions.