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A history of artificial intelligence

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AI is not a new concept. The idea of inanimate objects coming to life as intelligent beings go as far back as Greek antiquity. In the first half of the 20th century, science fiction's golden age familiarised the world with the concept of artificially intelligent robots.

In 1950, Alan Turing published the seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, in which he considered the question, “Can machines think?”. Six years later, during a conference at Dartmouth College, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was accepted as the name of the field of study into thinking machines.

The progress of AI has not been linear. There have been two significant periods of reduced funding and interest, known as AI winters. The first ran from 1974 to 1980, and the second from 1987 to 1993.

Following the end of this second winter, interest slowly picked up, helped by IBM’s chess-playing computer Deep Blue’s landmark 1997 victory over grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Just over a decade later, Google built the first autonomous car, and OpenAI developed a language model able to write original prose with human-like fluency. The current AI boom was underway.

The major milestones in the journey of the AI theme are set out in the timeline below. 


Pascal invented the first digital calculating machine


George Boole invented Boolean algebra


Formal logic is revolutionised in Principia Mathematica by Whitehead and Russell.


Von Neumann asserted that a general computer could simulate any effective procedure.


Alan Turing developed the Turing Test to assess a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent (human-like) behaviour.


Arthur Samuel wrote the first game-playing program for draughts (checkers).


The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence was held, a foundational event for the field.


John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky founded the MIT AI Lab.


The Lighthill Report, heavily critical of AI research, set study of the area back in the UK and the US.


World chess champion Garry Kasparov is defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue.


Tivo popularises recommendation technology based on tracking web activity and media usage.


Google started its self-driving car project (later renamed Waymo), building its first autonomous car.


IBM Watson beat human champions in the TV game show Jeopardy!


Apple released the iPhone 4S, containing the natural language-based virtual assistant Siri.


Tesla introduced AutoPilot, software that was later upgraded for fully autonomous driving.


Amazon launched Echo, its intelligent voice-activated speaker, which included the Alexa virtual assistant.


Baidu launched Duer, its intelligent assistant.


Google DeepMind's AlphaGo algorithm beat the world Go champion Lee Sedol 4-1


Libratus, designed by Carnegie Mellon researchers, beat the top 4 players in no-limit Texas Hold‘em poker.


Alibaba's AI model scored better than humans in a Stanford University reading and comprehension test.


The US added four of China's leading AI start-ups to a trade blacklist.


Covid-19 accelerated investments in AI.


OpenAI launched the language model GPT-3, which could write original prose with human-equivalent fluency.


The US banned Nvidia and AMD from selling advanced AI chips, including GPUs, to China.


GlobalData forecasts that spending on AI technology will be more than $188 billion.


Fully autonomous vehicles (Level 5) will be available to consumers.


50% probability of full human-level AI, according to a poll of AI experts.


75% probability of full human-level AI, according to a poll of AI experts.

Source: GlobalData Thematic Intelligence

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.