2. The Evolution of AI – How Did We Get Here?

When asked “What was your first experience with artificial intelligence?”, most people call upon science fiction movies. Long before that though, there have been myths about artificial intelligence from ancient times, as well as hints in literature such as, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But early science fiction movies like Star Trek played on the themes of alien intelligence and machine intelligence. In modern time, these movies have inspired entire product generations. Today it has turned out that a surprising number of those concepts are actually feasible and many of them have made it into the mainstream. The mobile phone as a ubiquitous communicator, the full-body scanner, the space ships, autonomous flight objects, just to name a few. Often the products have an astonishing physical resemblance to those fantasies created in the movies that were envisioned by the authors.

Fig. 2.1 The Matrix: An example of how AI is often shown in science fiction

Science fiction movies have created all kinds of artificial intelligence visions, both positive and negative. Unfortunately, with today’s technological advancement, even the darkest visions have become imaginable. Various movie themes explore how the artificial intelligence takes control of the human race and begins to treat us in the same manner we treat animals. One movie, ‘The Matrix’, describes how an AI network called the Matrix virtually controls people’s minds by playing a virtual world into their brains that humans perceive to be the real world. The Matrix AI reduces the role of humans to mere energy sources and are kept in cells to extract their energy while keeping them distracted by simulating a virtual world in their brains. The breadth of movies created are a proof of the amazing human creativity and showcase the fears that humans have for the unknown.

My own first encounter with artificial intelligence was in programming in the early 80s. Being a technology fascinated child, I spent many evenings in front of the first computers at university, programming games and exchanging code on telephone-connected bulletin boards. We developed utility programs, such as address books and calendars, which did not exist as widely available computer programs at that time. We asked ourselves, how can we make it more intelligent? If we could ask them questions, could they answer? From there, we began to create a general purpose interface, where the computer would ask you what you would like to know. By engaging in a simple dialog, the computer could analyze the texts and respond with predefined answers, sometimes reusing the words that you had used in the question. The main logic was based on “if this, then that” and we made complex branches and calculations to make the computer feel intelligent to the program users. Coding intelligence was fun in the beginning, but eventually, we got frustrated by the sheer volume of code and the limits of the early machines. External users of our applications found our interface quite ineffective and rather unintelligent. Artificial Intelligence has a long history of great aspirations and many failures.

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