The Origins of Artificial Intelligence

AITopics > History


Perhaps the earliest examples of the urge to make artificial persons are the Greek Gods. ... As a present from Zeus to Europa, Hephaestus makes Talos, a man of bronze whose duty is to patrol the beaches of Crete. He thwarts invaders by hurling great rocks at them, or by heating himself red hot and squeezing trespassers in a warm embrace.
-Pamela McCorduck from Machines Who Think

Greek ruins

The intellectual roots of AI, and the concept of intelligent machines, may be found in Greek mythology. Intelligent artifacts appear in literature since then, with mechanical devices actually (and sometimes fraudulently) demonstrating behaviour with some degree of intelligence. After modern computers became available following World War II, it has become possible to create programs that perform difficult intellectual tasks. Even more importantly, general purpose methods and tools have been created that allow similar tasks to be performed.

Good Starting Places

Timeline of AI: A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence. By Bruce G. Buchanan, University Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh. CHRONOLOGICAL OVERVIEW of significant events in the history of AI. (Prepared for the Introduction to AI class at the University of Pittsburgh and updated with links to relevant online articles.)

Boden, Margaret A. (1995). AI's Half-Century. AI Magazine 16(4): Winter 1995, 96-99. "The first 50 years of AI are reviewed, and current controversies outlined. Scientific disputes include disagreements over the best research methodology, including classical AI, connectionism, hybrid systems, and situated and evolutionary robotics. Philosophical disputes concern (for instance) whether computation is necessary and sufficient for mentality, whether representations are essential for intelligence, whether consciousness can be explained objectively, and whether the Cartesian presuppositions of (most) AI should be replaced by a neo-Heideggerian approach. With respect to final verdicts, both juries (scientific and philosophical) are still out. But AI has aided theoretical psychology and revivified the philosophy of mind."

Buchanan, Bruce G. (2005). A (Very) Brief History of Artificial Intelligence. AI Magazine 26(4), Winter 2005, 53–60. "In this brief history, the beginnings of artificial intelligence are traced to philosophy, fiction, and imagination. Early inventions in electronics, engineering, and many other disciplines have influenced AI. Some early milestones include work on problem solving, including basic work in learning, knowledge representation, and inference as well as demonstration programs in language understanding, translation, theorem proving, associative memory, and knowledge-based systems. The article ends with a brief examination of influential organizations and current issues facing the field."

Knight, Heather (2006). Early Artificial Intelligence Projects: A Student Perspective. A short overview of the history of AI, with a few pictures, a timeline, and good starting bibiliography.

Luger, George (2005). AI: Early History and Applications. Chapter One of George F. Luger's textbook, Artificial Intelligence: Structures and Strategies for Complex Problem Solving, 5th Edition (Addison-Wesley; 2005), is available online. "As one of the originators of the science of operations research, as well as the designer of the first programmable mechanical computing machines, Charles Babbage, a nineteenth century mathematician, may also be considered an early practitioner of artificial intelligence (Morrison and Morrison 1961). Babbage's difference engine was a special-purpose machine for computing the values of certain polynomial functions and was the forerunner of his analytical engine. The analytical engine, designed but not successfully constructed during his lifetime, was a general-purpose programmable computing machine that presaged many of the architectural assumptions underlying the modern computer."

McCorduck, Pamela (2004). Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence. A K Peters, Natick, Mass., 2004. Questions to the author include: How long has the human race dreamed about thinking machines? Artificial intelligence - is it real? What so-called smart .computers do -- is that really thinking? Shouldn't we just say no to intelligent machines? Aren't the risks too scary? and, What's ahead as AI succeeds even more?

Nilsson, Nils (2010). The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements. A book-length history of AI, half of which describes work after 1980, written by one of the early developers of the field. A 15MB pdf version is downloadable free of charge.

The Big Picture - A Short History of Robotics and Thinking Machines. Part of the teaching guide for the Scientific American Frontiers in the classroom series: ROBOTS ALIVE!


Also see collection of Specialized Histories.

Timeline of AI: A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence. By Bruce G. Buchanan, University Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh. A chronological list of significant events in the history of AI, prepared for the Introduction to AI class at the University of Pittsburgh and updated with links to relevant online articles.

Timeline of Computer History from The Computer Museum History Center. "This timeline explores the history of computing from 1945 to 1994. Each year features illustrated descriptions of significant innovations in hardware and software technology, as well as milestones in areas such as commercial applications and artificial intelligence. When appropriate, biographical sketches of the pioneers responsible for the advances are included." The photos are sure to capture the attention of your students.

Timeline from The History of Computing Project. Major developments in the chronology of computing, with images and brief descriptions. Also contains links to many biographies and original papers.

Artificial Intelligence History. A detailed timeline from Stottler Henke Associates, Inc.

Timeline for the Evolution of Cybernetics. From the American Society for Cybernetics' (ACS). "Cybernetics precipitated out of diverse threads of work fortuitously intersecting during the 1940's. In the ensuing decades, the themes circumscribing cybernetics' original definition diverged again to engender or facilitate the rise of an even greater diversity of fields, labels, and disciplines. ... [The timeline] is deliberately intended to reflect at least a sample of the many subjects and disciplines from which cybernetics descended and into which its themes subsequently flowed."

Early Calculators and Vintage Machines. A listing of sources of information and museum collections compiled by the Charles Babbage Institute.

Machine Translation's Past and Future. A timeline covering the span from 1629 through the year 2264! Compiled by Kristin Demos and Mark Frauenfelder (Wired, 8.05 - May 2000).

From Gutenberg to the Internet Timeline - An Annotated Chronology of the History of Information from about 30,000 B.C.E. to the present. By Jeremy M. Norman.

Timeline. From The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Raymond Kurzweil. It covers the period from "10-15 billion years ago" to "2099 ... [and] Some many millenniums hence."

Overviews & Introductory Readings

Men vs. Machines Through Time. by Sarah Nathan, The Atlantic. (Feb. 8, 2011). Pictures of nine milestones in the history of our relationships with machines, starting with the Luddites, 1811-1813.

The story of artificial intelligence BitTech (March 19, 2012). (Four pages). Quick tour of the history of AI from Turing to the present.

An early look at artificial Intelligence. The Computer Chronicles (1984 television broadcast) / video available from The Internet Archive. "Guests include Edward Feigenbaum of Stanford University, Nils Nilsson of the AI Center at SRI International, Tom Kehler of Intellegenetics, Herb Lechner of SRI, and John McCarthy of Stanford. Featured demonstrations include Inferential Knowledge Engineering and the programming language LISP."

  • Components - for example, from 1986: "Compaq beat IBM to the market when it announced the Deskpro 386, the first computer on the market to use Intel's new 80386 chip, a 32-bit microprocessor with 275,000 transistors on each chip. At 4 million operations per second and 4 kilobytes of memory, the 80386 gave PCs as much speed and power as older mainframes and minicomputers. The 386 chip brought with it the introduction of a 32-bit architecture, a significant improvement over the 16-bit architecture of previous microprocessors. It had two operating modes, one that mirrored the segmented memory of older x86 chips, allowing full backward compatibility, and one that took full advantage of its more advanced technology. The new chip made graphical operating environments for IBM PC and PC-compatible computers practical."
  • Computers - wonderful photos, specs and more about ENIAC, AVIDAC, Manchester Mark I, Pilot ACE, MIT Whirlwind, UNIVAC I, Micral, and many others.
  • Software & Languages - here are just two examples from this exciting collection:
    • "Claude Shannon's 'The Mathematical Theory of Communication' showed engineers how to code data so they could check for accuracy after transmission between computers. Shannon identified the bit as the fundamental unit of data and, coincidentally, the basic unit of computation."
    • " LISP made its debut as the first computer language designed for writing artificial intelligence programs. Created by John McCarthy, LISP offered programmers flexibility in organization."
  • Also see the Computer History Museum's This Day/Week/Month in History collection.

Robots/ Mechanical Life. NPR Talk of the Nation: Science Friday With Ira Flatow (August 30, 2002). "This week, an automated convenience store opened in Washington. This robo-mart dispenses snacks, toiletries, and even DVDs. From housekeeping to the battlefield to your neighborhood convenience store, researchers are creating robots to live with us and work for us. In this hour, we'll look at how robots may change our lives. Plus, early attempts to create mechanical life." Guests: Rodney Brooks & Gaby Wood. You can listen to the radio broadcast by clicking here.

Ancient Precursors to AI

In search of lost time - The ancient Antikythera Mechanism doesn't just challenge our assumptions about technology transfer over the ages -- it gives us fresh insights into history itself. By Jo Marchant. (November 29, 2006). "This thing spent 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea before making it to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, and it shows. ... This is the Antikythera Mechanism. These fragments contain at least 30 interlocking gear-wheels, along with copious astronomical inscriptions. Before its sojourn on the sea bed, it computed and displayed the movement of the Sun, the Moon and possibly the planets around Earth, and predicted the dates of future eclipses. It's one of the most stunning artefacts we have from classical antiquity. ... 'It's the same way that we would do things today, it's like modern technology,' says [Yanis] Bitsakis. 'That's why it fascinates people.' What fascinates me is that where we see the potential of that technology to measure time accurately and make machines do work, the Greeks saw a way to demonstrate the beauty of the heavens and get closer to the gods."

  • Also see:
    • Early Astronomical ‘Computer’ Found to Be Technically Complex. By John Noble Wilford. The New York Times (November 30, 2006). "A computer in antiquity would seem to be an anachronism, like Athena ordering takeout on her cellphone. But a century ago, pieces of a strange mechanism with bronze gears and dials were recovered from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece. Historians of science concluded that this was an instrument that calculated and illustrated astronomical information, particularly phases of the Moon and planetary motions, in the second century B.C. The instrument, the Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the world’s first computer, has now been examined with the latest in high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography."
    • Secrets revealed. By Benjamin Pimentel. San Francisco Chronicle (November 30, 2006). "'It is the first mechanical calculator known to mankind,' said Tom Malzbender, a research scientist at HP Labs in Palo Alto. 'Nothing as complex is known until you get to the Middle Ages, when people started building clocks.' ... Malzbender's colleague, Dan Gelb, compared the bronze device to a laptop computer. It stood about a foot tall, 8 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches deep."

The programmable robot of ancient Greece. By Noel Sharkey (Professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, UK. His forthcoming book is called The Tin Man). New Scientist (July 7, 2007; Issue 2611: pages 32-35; subscription req'd). "Constructing a mechanical lion that could walk, let alone present flowers to the king, can't have been a simple task back in 1515 - even for a genius like Leonardo da Vinci. How he managed this feat remained a mystery until 2000, when US robotics expert Mark Rosheim came to a surprising conclusion. ... [W]as da Vinci influenced by an earlier design? And if so, how far back in history can we trace programmable robots? In search of answers I followed the technology back through medieval Europe to the Islamic world, where I have found evidence of an even earlier programmable automaton, made in Baghdad by the brilliant 13th-century engineer Ibn Ismail Ibn al-Razzaz Al-Jazari. ... Yet the trail doesn't stop there. It led me even further back past the automata of the Byzantine court and ancient Rome to ancient Alexandria. It was here that Hero, one of the greatest Greek engineers, constructed a programmable robot that pre-dates da Vinci's by 1500 years. ... So what exactly do we mean by 'programmable'? ..."

Ramon Lull and the Infidels. By Clark Glymour, Kenneth M. Ford and Patrick J. Hayes. AI Magazine 19(2): Summer 1998, 1998, 136. "Many of the fundamental ideas in artificial intelligence have an ancient heritage. Some of the most fundamental, surely, are that thinking is a computational process, that computational processes involve combining symbols, that computation can be made mechanical, and that the mathematics of computation involves combinatorics. All of these ideas have their origin, so far as we know, in the work of an eccentric 13th century Spanish genius, Ramón Lull (1232-1316). Lull's sources were partly mystical, but the interesting part of his thought drew from - or against - an analytic tradition in logic and combinatorics."

Simulacra - The Early History of Talking Machines, which begins with the statement: "The earliest speaking machines were perceived as the heretical works of magicians and thus as attempts to defy god."

Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. By Gaby Wood. Faber, 2002. Book extract available online from The Observer: "The 18th-century mechanician, Jacques de Vaucanson, made 'robots' that were capable of playing musical instruments as melodiously as human beings - but it was his incontinent duck that has fascinated down the ages."

The Dream of Mechanical Life - Man and automata. By Hugh Ormsby-Lennon. The Weekly Standard (December 23, 2002 Volume 008, Issue 15). "A spate of new books [editor's note: 13 booksto be exact] addresses eighteenth-century automata, ventriloquists' dummies, and puppets--together with more recent avatars of chess computers, artificial intelligence, androids, robots, and cyborgs. Does 'computerization' challenge human identity as ominously as 'mechanization' previously seemed to? ... So, does artificial intelligence transcend Freudian nightmare now that it has come to suggest not itinerant showmen or tinkerers with clockwork but university scientists, computer moguls, and global corporations? Or does a scientist with an uncanny puppet always remain mad or charlatanical?"

The man-machine and artificial intelligence. By Bruce Mazlish, Department of History, MIT. In Constructions of the Mind--Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities. A special issue of the Stanford Humanities Review 4(2): Spring 1995. Stefano Franchi and Guven Guzeldere, editors. "In the history of mechanical contrivances, it is difficult to know how many of the automata of antiquity were constructed only in legend or by actual scientific artifice. Icarus's wings melt in the light of historical inquiry, as they were reputed to do in the myth; but was the flying automaton, attributed to a Chinese scientist of c. 380 BC actually in the air for three days, as related? (The same story is told of Archytas of Tarentum.) The mix of fact and fiction is a subject of critical importance for the history of science and technology; for our purposes, the aspirations of semi-mythical inventors can be as revealing as their actual embodiment in levers and gears."

Other Readings

AI@50: AI Magazine 27(4): Winter 2006. Articles include:

  • A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, August 31, 1955. By John McCarthy, Marvin L. Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester, and Claude E. Shannon. "The 1956 Dartmouth summer research project on artificial intelligence was initiated by this August 31, 1955 proposal, authored by John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester, and Claude Shannon. The original typescript consisted of 17 pages plus a title page. Copies of the typescript are housed in the archives at Dartmouth College and Stanford University. The first 5 papers state the proposal, and the remaining pages give qualifications and interests of the four who proposed the study. In the interest of brevity, this article reproduces only the proposal itself, along with the short autobiographical statements of the proposers.&quot.magazine cover
  • Happy Silver Anniversary, AI! By Edward A. Feigenbaum. (A reprint of his AAAI President’s Message from AI Magazine (2)1: Winter 1980.) "Artificial intelligence (AI), on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its naming, is a “kid, finally grown up.” In this letter to his field, Feigenbaum recounts AI’s stumbles and successes, its growing pains and maturation, to a place of preeminence among the sciences; standing with molecular biology, particle physics, and cosmology as owners of the best questions of science
  • AI@50: We Are Golden! By Alan K. Mackworth. "Artificial intelligence (AI), on the 50th anniversary of its naming, is an autonomous discipline. The field has an established record of success, as exemplified by three recent achievements presented at AAAI-06/IAAI-06. It is now mature enough to collaborate productively with its sister disciplines, realizing the dream of ubiquitous computational intelligence.";magazine cover

AI Magazine's Special 25th Anniversary Issue, 26(4): Winter 2005. As stated in David Leake's Editorial Introduction: "The year 2005 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. This special issue celebrates the anniversary by presenting perspectives on AAAI's history, on the future of AAAI, and on the past and future of artificial intelligence. It highlights the many voices contributing to AAAI by featuring personal remembrances and visions from many people, including founders of AAAI, presidents who guided the society's development, and others spurring on AI research and applications. While a single issue can only scratch the surface, this special issue clearly illustrates the spirit, accomplishment, and optimism that will drive the next 25 years."

Genius on the Block - The foundations of the computing age go up for auction. By Stephen Cass. IEEE Spectrum (July 2005).

The Discovery of the Artificial: Behavior, Mind and Machines Before and Beyond Cybernetics. By Roberto Cordeschi. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 2002. Includes descriptions of many precursors of AI that are rarely mentioned. As stated in the introduction available online from the author: " ...a new concept of the machine ...profoundly influenced the sciences of the mind and behavior in the twentieth century. ...The origins of this methodology are usually traced back to the middle of the 1940s, with the advent of cybernetics, which Norbert Wiener described, in his 1948 book, as the study of 'control and communication in the animal and the machine.' ... One of my central claims is that certain basic features of the simulative methodology whose origins are usually put no further back than cybernetics, actually go back in significant ways to the early decades of the twentieth century."

Information Overload, The Early Years. (November 28, 2010) Ann Blair, Boston Globe online: . "Worry about information overload has become one of the drumbeats of our time. The world’s books are being digitized, online magazines and newspapers and academic papers are steadily augmented by an endless stream of blog posts and Twitter feeds; and the gadgets to keep us participating in the digital deluge are more numerous and sophisticated. ...But is it really so novel? Human history is a long process of accumulating information, especially once writing made it possible to record texts and preserve them beyond the capacity of our memories. And if we look closely, we can find a striking parallel to our own time: what Western Europe experienced in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention of printing in the 15th century, when thousands upon thousands of books began flooding the market, generating millions of copies for sale."

Knowledge Processing -- From File Servers to Knowledge Servers. By Edward Feigenbaum. "This chapter from Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Intelligent Machines (published in 1990) addresses the history and development of AI, and where it was headed, circa 1990." Excerpt: "Like all creators, scientists and technologists must dream, must put forth a vision, or else they relegate their work to almost pointless incrementalism. ... The early dreaming included dreams about intelligent behavior at very high levels of competence. Turing speculated on wide-ranging conversations between people and machines and on chess playing programs. Later Newell and Simon wrote about champion-level chess programs and began their work toward that end. Samuel (checker playing), Gelernter (geometry-theorem proving), and others shared the dream. At Stanford, Lederberg and I chose reasoning in science as our task and began work with Buchanan and Djerassi on building a program that would elucidate chemical structure at a high level of competence: the DENDRAL program."

AI Matures and Flourishes in North America. By David Mike Hamilton, Tom M. Mitchell, and Carol M. Hamilton. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 18(4): 87-88, c3 (July/August 2003). "Separate artificial intelligence organizations in North America have existed for nearly 40 years. From humble beginnings,when a small interest group served the field, to today,when AI groups serve every niche, AI is flourishing.The oldest AI organization in the region is SIGART, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence. SIGART began publishing a newsletter for its members in the mid 1960s...."

AI's Greatest Trends and Controversies. Marti A. Hearst and Haym Hirsh, Editors. IEEE Intelligent Systems (January/February 2000). A timely and thought provoking collection of views from AI scholars and practitioners.

Early Artificial Intelligence Projects - A Student Perspective by Heather Knight (August 2006). Part of NSF's Recovering MIT's AI Film History Project Created at CSAIL. "Unlike many fields, Artificial Intelligence has not had a linear progression and its research and breakthroughs have not grown toward an easily identified Sun. Computing, in contrast, has been noted for its exponential growth and improvement characterized by Moore's law, 'the empirical observation that the complexity of integrated circuits, with respect to minimum component cost, doubles every 24 months' (wikipedia). The path of AI, however, more resembles the intertwining world wide web, spiraling out and looping back in many directions. Here you will find a rough chronology of some of AI's most influential projects. It is intended for both non-scientists and those ready to continue experimentation and research tomorrow. Included is a taste of who the main players have been, concepts they and their projects have explored and how the goals of AI have evolved and changed over time. Many will be surprised that some of what we now consider obvious tools like search engines, spell check and spam filters are all outcroppings of AI research."

Lighthill Controversy Debate at the Royal Institution with Professor Sir James Lighthill, Professor Donald Michie, Professor Richard Gregory and Professor John McCarthy. BBC TV (June 1973) / video available in several formats from AIAI, The University of Edinburgh's Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute.

Developments in Artificial Intelligence, Chapter 9 of Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research. Committee on Innovations in Computing and Communications: Lessons from History, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999. "Thus, the activities surrounding the [1956] Dartmouth workshop were, at the outset, linked with the cutting-edge research at a leading private research laboratory (AT&T Bell Laboratories) and a rapidly emerging industrial giant (IBM). Researchers at Bell Laboratories and IBM nurtured the earliest work in AI and gave young academic researchers like McCarthy and Minsky credibility that might otherwise have been lacking. Moreover, the Dartmouth summer research project in AI was funded by private philanthropy and by industry, not by government. The same is true for much of the research that led up to the summer project."

The Great 1980s AI Bubble: A Review of The Brain Makers, by H.P. Newquist. Book review by Hans Moravec. AI Magazine 15(3): Fall 1994, 86-87.

Whatever happened to machines that think? By Justin Mullins. New Scientist (April 23, 2005; Issue 2496: pages 32 - 37). "This early success contributed to a sense of optimism that the problems of AI could be overcome, much of it based on the idea that some kind of grand unified theory of mind would emerge that would offer up a scheme to create artificial intelligence on a platter. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw feverish speculation about the impact intelligent machines might have on the world and the advantages they would bring to whoever developed them. The computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick's classic 1968 movie 2001: A space odyssey summed up the visions being debated, and the fears they conjured up. It was against this backdrop that Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry announced, in 1982, a programme called the Fifth Generation Computer Systems project to develop massively parallel computers that would take computing and AI to a new level. ... An arms race of sorts ensued in which the US and Japan vied for supremacy." [Note: A brief history of AI timeline appears at the end of the article.]

Tools for Thought. The 1985 edition of Howard Rheingold's book is available online. (The revised 2000 edition is available from the MIT Press.) As stated by the author on each chapter page: "The idea that people could use computers to amplify thought and communication, as tools for intellectual work and social activity, was not an invention of the mainstream computer industry or orthodox computer science, nor even homebrew computerists; their work was rooted in older, equally eccentric, equally visionary, work. You can't really guess where mind-amplifying technology is going unless you understand where it came from."

The Age of Female Computers. David Skinner reviews When Computers Were Human, by David Alan Grier. The New Atlantis (Spring 2006). "Long before the dawn of calculators and inexpensive desktop computers, the grinding work of large problems had to be broken up into discrete, simple parts and done by hand. Where scads of numbers needed computing -- for astronomical purposes at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, or to establish the metric system at the Bureau du Cadastre in Paris -- such work was accomplished factory-style. ... The most famous modern example of such work is probably Los Alamos, where scientists’ wives were recruited in the early stages to compute long math problems for the Manhattan Project. ... The social history of pre-machine computing is also interesting in light of contemporary debates about gender and scientific achievement, and here Grier’s reconsideration of the past sheds useful light on the present. In the history of computing, the humbler levels of scientific work were open, even welcoming, to women. Indeed, by the early twentieth century computing was thought of as women’s work and computers were assumed to be female. ... Richard Feynman, then a junior staff member at Los Alamos, arranged a showdown between man and machine, pitting a group of human computers against the Los Alamos IBM facility with both performing a calculation for the plutonium bomb. For two days, the human computers were able to keep up with the machines. 'But on the third day,' recalled one observer, 'the punched-card machine operation began to move decisively ahead, as the people performing the hand computing could not sustain their initial fast pace, while the machines did not tire.' Shortly after the war, the machines took over; their human accompanists were now 'operators' and 'programmers.'"

Book Review: M. Mitchell Waldrop's "The Dream Machine - J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal." By Bob Spinrad. Wired (October 2001/9.10). "Yet Lick insisted that computers had to connect to people on people's terms, not the machines'. The interface had to be intuitive. Expressed most vividly in his 1960 paper 'Man-Computer Symbiosis,' Lick's visions seem boringly familiar today: personal computers, graphical interfaces, voice interaction, the Internet (he called it the Intergalactic Computer Network), online reference sources, and what we now call intelligent agents."

A short history of the computer. Technology Research News. "The first general purpose electronic computer appeared more than half a century ago.

The Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), which contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, required 1,800 square feet to rest its bulk, and cost three quarters of a million dollars, was the culmination of centuries of advances in computational devices, mathematics and electronics. ... The first graphics program, Sketchpad, was developed by Ivan Sutherland at MIT in 1962. The first computer game, Spacewar!, also emerged at MIT around the same time."

  • Author Q & A provided by Anchor Books, publisher of the paperback edition (2003). "Q: You begin your 'Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life' at a very specific place and time: with the story of the philosopher Rene Descartes sailing to Sweden in the mid-17th-century, in the company of an android. Why this moment? A [Gaby Wood]: Although people have tried to construct mechanical simulations of human and animal life for millennia (from Plato’s contemporary, Archytas of Tarentum, to Albertus Magnus, a 13th-century Dominican monk), I wanted to show that it was only really during the Enlightenment that these attempts became more than practical enterprises: they were philosophical experiments as well. Descartes was an immediate precursor to the philosophers of the 18th century who were preoccupied with the question of whether humans were born with a soul, or were merely very complex machines. In their quest for an answer to this question, they built machines in the image of men and women, thinking: if men are just machines, then does a mechanically-constructed man amount to a human being? ..."
  • Wise guys and living dolls - The line between machine and man has fascinated inventors and tricksters down the centuries. Book Review by Simon Schaffer. The Observer (2/24/02).

Individual People, Places, and Programs: Histories and Historical Notes

Classic Books & Papers

See Classic AI Books and Classic AI Papers.

Related Resources

The Process of Historical Research

Haigh, Thomas. The History of Computing: An Introduction for the Computer Scientist. In Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines ed. Atsushi Akera & William Aspray (Washington, D.C.: Computing Research Association, 2004): 5-26. "The article has a fairly informal tone and includes three main parts: an introduction to the current state of the history of computing and its key institutions, an explanation of what historians do and how they are different from computer scientists, and a personal stab at suggesting ways in which history might be of instructional value."

AAAI Fellows & Academic Genealogy

AAAI Fellows: The American Association for Artificial Intelligence's Fellows program was started in 1990 to recognize individuals who have made significant, sustained contributions---usually over at least a ten-year period---to the field of artificial intelligence.

The AI Genealogy Project - a service of the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin, Benjamin Kuipers, Director. As stated in the Mission Statement: "Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a small but remarkably interdisciplinary field. It draws especially on computer science, mathematics, electrical, control, and mechanical engineering, cognitive, perceptual, and developmental psychology, linguistics, and philosophy, among other fields. AI is made up of a highly diverse collection of intellectual threads.... [W]e believe that the data will be a useful resource for historians and social scientists studying the nature of science. Intellectual influence among scientists is an immensely rich and complex relation."


AI@50, the Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence Conference: The Next Fifty Years (AI@50) to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Dartmouth Summer Research Project.

Computer History Collection at The Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Courses in the History of Computing. A list of universities offering courses in the history of computing compiled by Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly, Department of Computer Science,University of Warwick.

History of Computing, maintained by John Impagliazzo, Professor of Computer Science, Hofstra University, New York. Collections include: Computing Museums and Useful History Sites.

Stanford Computer History Exhibits. Photos of the material on display in the Computer Science Dept. at Stanford, with informative text descriptions. Not specifically AI, but some material from the Stanford AI Lab.

See our Wellspring Initiative

Other References (many not available online)

Cohen, Jonathan. 1967. Human Robots in Myth and Science. New York: A.S. Barnes. (Earlier printing: 1966, London: Allen and Unwin.)

Crevier, Daniel. 1993. AI: The Tumultuous History of the Search for Artificial Intelligence. New York: Basic Books of Harper Collins Publishers.

Dean, Thomas, James Allen, and Yiannis Aloimonos. 1995. Artificial Intelligence: Theory and Practice. Redwood City, CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Co., Inc. The end of each subject-oriented chapter gives a thumbnail sketch of major contributors in special fields within AI.

Feigenbaum, Edward A., and Julian Feldman., editors. 1995. Computers and Thought. AAAI Press. This book, originally published in 1963, contains twenty classic papers by pioneers in the field of AI.

Freitas, Robert A. Jr. and William P. Gilbreath, eds. Advanced Automation for Space Missions. Proceedings of the 1980 NASA/ASEE Summer Study (NASA Conference Publication 2255). Portions of the report are available online, including the Introduction: "This document is the final report of a study on the feasibility of using machine intelligence, including automation and robotics, in future space missions. The 10-week study was conducted during the summer of 1980 by 18 educators from universities throughout the United States who worked with 15 NASA program engineers. The specific study objectives were to identify and analyze several representative missions that would require extensive applications of machine intelligence, and then to identify technologies that must be developed to accomplish these types of missions." Some of the other sections available online are Survey of Artificial Intelligence and History of NASA Automation Activities.

Gardner, Martin. (1968). Logic Machines, Diagrams, and Boolean Algebra. New York: Dover.

Glymour, Clark, Kenneth Ford, and Patrick Hayes.( 1995). The Prehistory of Android Epistemology. In Computation and Intelligence: Collected Readings, ed. Luger, George F., 3-21. Menlo Park/Cambridge/London: AAAI Press/The MIT Press.

Hodges, Andrew. (1983). Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hogan, James P. (1997). Mind Matters: Exploring the World of Artificial Intelligence. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group.

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. "From the analytical engine to the supercomputer, from Pascal to von Neumann, from punched cards to CD-ROMs -- the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing covers the breadth of computer history. Featuring scholarly articles by leading computer scientists and historians, as well as firsthand accounts by computer pioneers, the Annals is the primary publication for recording, analyzing, and debating the history of computing. The Annals also serves as a focal point for people interested in uncovering and preserving the records of this exciting field. The quarterly publication is an active center for the collection and dissemination of information on historical projects and organizations, oral history activities, and international conferences."

Kowalski, Robert (1988). The Early Years of Logic Programming. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery 31: 38-43.

Kurzweil, Raymond (1990). In The Age of the Intelligent Machine. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Chapters 1-6 (pp. 1-214).

Markoff, John (2005). What the Dormouse Said - How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Viking. "An unparalleled history of how technology and the counterculture came together in the 1960s, created the cult of the personal computer, and shaped today's Silicon Valley."

McCarthy, John (1978). History of LISP. In History of Programming Languages: Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN Conference, 1978, ed. Wexenblatt, R. L., 173-197. New York: Academic Press, 1981.

McCorduck, Pamela (1979). Machines Who Think. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. A fascinating "must-read" that traces the quest for artificial intelligence back to ancient times, and then proceeds though various current topics with readable explanations and lively interview excerpts. Updated in 2004.] '"This twenty-fifth anniversary edition [of 2004] will contain a lengthy afterword.... It will also have two time lines, one where the history of AI is narrowly construed, and another where AI is cast into a far larger context of human endeavor...."

  • McCorduck's Machines Who Think after Twenty-Five Years Revisiting the Origins of AI. Book Review by Philip Mirowski. AI Magazine 24(4): Winter 2003, 135-138.
  • Excerpt from Pamela McCorduck's Letter to the Editor (it can be found in the AAAI News section), AI Magazine 25(1): Spring 2004, 5:
  • AI at the Inception - A 25th-anniversary edition of a classic chronicles the fledgling science of artificial intelligence. Book review by Henry Fountain. Scientific American (May 2004). "When Machines Who Think was first published in 1979, it was an up-to-the-moment history. But in a digital world, that moment was an eternity ago, so McCorduck has appended a 30,000-word afterword to bring the reader up-to-date. ... Her story begins long before the advent of computing, in ancient thinking about the human need to make something in our own image. McCorduck sees AI research as the continuation of a long tradition of thought, encompassing everything from the Ten Commandments' prohibition against idols to Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein monster. ... That slow infusion of AI into everyday computing picked up speed after 1979, and in the afterword McCorduck gives a taste of these advances and of recent research in robotics, natural-language processing and other fields that are, in essence, AI spin-offs."
  • Also see Pamela McCorduck's FAQ Collection. Questions include: How long has the human race dreamed about thinking machines? Artificial intelligence - is it real? What so-called smart computers do -- is that really thinking? Shouldn't we just say no to intelligent machines? Aren't the risks too scary? and, What's ahead as AI succeeds even more?

Moravec, Hans (1988). Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. A lively and accessible overview of the field of robotics from the Director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, including historical development as well as social issues.

Newell, Allen (1983). Some Intellectual Issues in the History of Artificial Intelligence. In The Study of Information: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Machlup, F. and U. Mansfield, 187-227. New York: Wiley.

Newell, Allen, and Herbert A. Simon (1972). Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; Prentice-Hall. Be sure to see the Historical Addendum (pages 873 - 889).

Newquist, Harvey P. (1994). The Brain Makers: Genius, Ego and Greed in the Quest for Machines that Think. Sams Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana. See the review by Hans Moravec.

Patterson, Dan W. (1990). Introduction to Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-8).

Scientific American issue titled, Information. September 1966 (Volume 215, Number 3). Table of contents:

  • Information, by John McCarthy (pp. 64 - )
  • Computer Logic and Memory, by David C. Evans (pp. 74 - )
  • Computer Inputs and Outputs, by Ivan E. Sutherland (pp. 86 - )
  • System Ananlysis and Programming, by Christopher Strachey (pp. 112 - )
  • Time-Sharing on Computers, by R.M. Fano and F.J. Corbató (pp. 128 - )
  • The Transmission of Computer Data, by John R. Pierce (pp. 144 - )
  • The Uses of Computers in Science, by Anthony G. Oettinger (pps. 160 - )
  • The Uses of Computers in Technology, by Steven Anson Coons (pps. 176 - )
  • The Uses of Computers in Organizations, by Martin Greenberger (pps. 192 - )
  • The Uses of Computers in Education, by Patrick Suppes (pps. 206 - )
  • Information Storage and Retrieval, by Ben-Ami Lipetz (pp. 224 - )
  • Artificial Intelligence, by Marvin Minsky (pp. 246 - )

Selfridge, Oliver G., Richard S. Sutton, and Charles W. Anderson (1988). Selected Bibliography on Connectionism, in Y.C.Lee (ed.) Evolution Learning and Cognition, 391-403. World Scientific. An annotated bibliography of significant papers in the development of connectionist systems.

Swade, D. D. (1993). Redeeming Charles Babbage's Mechanical Computer. Scientific American 268 (2): 86-91.

Woodbury, David O. (1959). The Translating Machine. The Atlantic Monthly (Volume 204, No. 2; pages 60 - 64). Early article on the effort to automate translation from one language to another. "Professor William N. Locke, head of MIT's modern languages department and a prime mover in machine translation, is not going to be satisfied even with this kind of short cut. He would like to have a machine that will translate material that is merely spoken to it. This is not so fantastic as it sounds."

At the AAAI-2000 conference in Austin, a visitor to the AITopics booth asked if I could provide more information about Hephaestus and Talos. So for him and everyone else who is interested in Greek mythology, here are links to two pages (complete with illustrations) from Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link:

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