Photo by Marc Da Cunha Lopes.

Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. The term “artificial intelligence” had previously been used to describe machines that mimic and display “human” cognitive skills that are associated with the human mind, such as “learning” and “problem-solving”. This definition has since been rejected by major AI researchers who now describe AI in terms of rationality and acting rationally, which does not limit how intelligence can be articulated. Artificial intelligence was founded as an academic discipline in 1956, and in the years since has experienced several waves of optimism, followed by disappointment and the loss of funding known as an “AI winter”, followed by new approaches, success and renewed funding. AI research has tried and discarded many different approaches since its founding, including simulating the brain, modeling human problem solving, formal logic, large databases of knowledge and imitating animal behavior. In the first decades of the 21st century, highly mathematical-statistical machine learning has dominated the field, and this technique has proved highly successful, helping to solve many challenging problems throughout industry and academia. The various sub-fields of AI research are centered on particular goals and the use of particular tools. The traditional goals of AI research include reasoning, knowledge representation, planning, learning, natural language processing, perception, and the ability to move and manipulate objects. General intelligence (the ability to solve an arbitrary problem) is among the field’s long-term goals. To solve these problems, AI researchers have adapted and integrated a wide range of problem-solving techniques – including search and mathematical optimization, formal logic, artificial neural networks, and methods based on statistics, probability and economics. AI also draws upon computer science, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and many other fields. The field was founded on the assumption that human intelligence “can be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it”. This raised philosophical arguments about the mind and the ethical consequences of creating artificial beings endowed with human-like intelligence; these issues have previously been explored by myth, fiction and philosophy since antiquity. Computer scientists and philosophers have since suggested that AI may become an existential risk to humanity if its rational capacities are not steered towards beneficial goals.

Story by Laurie Silvey.