- Birth of Artificial Intelligence

Birth of Artificial Intelligence

I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus


The story of artificial beings imitating human characteristics remains a strong object of fascination since classical antiquity, inspiring products that spark policy and ethical debates of today.

As the legendary sculptor Pygmalion carves his spouse out of ivory in Greek myths, the Spike Jonze film Her tells a story of a lonely man who falls in love with his voice-activated personal assistant. Battle of wits ensues between man and machine as the Mechanical Turk tours around the 19th century Europe, only to turn out to be a real player-in-the-box; meanwhile, the world watches as IBM's Deep Blue, an actual supercomputer, wins against the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov at the turn of the millennium. Finally, as Victor Frankenstein desperately runs away his own monstrous, nameless creation in Mary Shelley's eponymous novel, we eagerly ask Amazon Alexa and other smart speakers about today's weather and news as we pour ourselves some morning coffee.

Beyond these fascinating stories of love, fear, and competition, however, we now live in the new reality of consistently interacting with AI products on a daily basis. Below are some of the self-directed reading materials that will immerse you in the early history of artificial intelligence.


The Mechanical Chess Player That Unsettled the World
"Known initially as the Automaton Chess Player and later as the Mechanical Turk—or just the Turk—the machine consisted of a mechanical man dressed in robes and a turban who sat at a wooden cabinet that was overlaid with a chessboard. The Turk was designed to play chess against any opponent game enough to challenge him."

AI as an academic discipline

A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, August 31, 1955
"The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves."

Computer researchers and video games

The Priesthood at Play: Computer Games in the 1950s
"While many interesting games from this time period have been unearthed — and in some cases even been recreated to play on modern hardware — the games of the 1950s were largely confined to research labs run by universities, large corporations, and national governments and were not intended for mass distribution and/or public consumption."