The Field of Artificial Intelligence 465

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The Field of Artificial Intelligence: Biological ‘Thinking’

Machines Attempting to Create Mechanical

‘Thinking’ Machines

Artificial intelligence, abbreviated AI, is a combination of the fields of science,

physiology, and philosophy. The main purpose of AI is to create machines that can think.

But in order to determine if a machine is thinking, “. . . it is necessary to define

intelligence. To what degree does intelligence consist of, for example, solving complex

problems, or making generalizations and relationships?” (“Introduction” Internet).

Answers needed to be found for these questions before anyone could begin work on a self

reliant learning machine. So after years of painstaking research and perseverance,

Scientist were able to initiate AI and it has come a long way since.

Before electronics, AI was only theory, but it was one component that pushed the

commencement of the ‘electronic birth’ in 19431. This ‘birth’ gave scientists the tools

necessary to physically invent an intelligent machine. The original dozen scientists

quickly grew to thousands of engineers and specialists(“Introduction” Internet). When

started in 1956, AI was an “. . . idealism . . . that was going to be a powerful force for the

good of humanity. But that idealism is being squeezed out, instead, by hypocrites who

crave money, status, and power” (“Artificial Intelligence, and Robot” Internet). This is

all too prevalent today. Sadly, “. . . ‘experts’ have turned AI into a battle for territory,

obstructing progress, obscuring their trivialities behind impressive-sounding jargon, and

turning this fundamental, urgently important domain of science into an exclusive club,

with artificially limited ‘union cards’. . .” (“Artificial Intelligence, and Robot”, Internet).

Although scientists with these ‘union cards’ were able to keep AI research an ‘exclusive

club’, we must come to understand that artificial intelligence has been in development

for many years and is integral to the computer field, has practical uses and could prove to

be an advantage to society. Most importantly, functional AI is very probable in the future.

Although the computer was around for the technological movement, the link

between computers and human intelligence wasn’t made until approximately 1950.

Scientists believe that this first realization should be credited to Norbert Wiener. He was

one of the first Americans to make observations on the principle of feedback theory. To

understand this theory, it is easiest to use the example of the normal household

thermostat: “It controls the temperature of an environment by gathering the actual

temperature of the house, comparing it to the desired temperature, and then responding

by turning the heat up or down”(“Beginnings” Internet). The most important research in

feedback loops was that Wiener theorized “. . . that all intelligent behavior was the result

of feedback mechanisms. And these mechanisms could possibly be simulated by

machines”(qtd. in “Beginnings” Internet). This discovery by Wiener would greatly

influence the thinking behind AI in the future.

Later, in 1955, two scientist, Newell and Simon, developed The Logic Theorist.

This program was considered the first true AI program. It is agreed that “. . . the impact

that The Logic Theorist made on both the public and the field of AI has made it a crucial

stepping stone in developing the AI field”(“Beginnings” Internet). With these new

technologies and ideas, the AI field greatly lacked organization. This was corrected by

John McCarthy, regarded as the father of AI, he “. . . organized a conference to draw the

talent and expertise of others interested in machine intelligence for a month of

brainstorming”(“Beginnings” Internet). This conference was deemed “The Darmouth

summer research project on artificial intelligence”(“Beginnings” Internet). From that

point, the name artificial intelligence stuck to any research to do with the creation of

‘thinking’ machines.

Now that they had a name for their research, scientists needed to find some

reasons for continuing it. The scientists began seeking realistic goals that AI could

accomplish. Patrick Henry Winston, a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of

Technology(MIT), stated that “The central goals of artificial intelligence are to make

computers more useful and to understand the principles which make intelligence

possible”(1). Nevertheless, one must not overlook the fact that with AI “. . . a computer

system can be trained quickly, has virtually no operating cost, never forgets what it

learns, never calls in sick, retires, or goes on vacation”(“Scope” Internet). But still the

question remained on how to use it. For example, at one time, “. . . people once

considered an intelligent computer as a possible substitute for human control over

nuclear weapons, citing that a computer could respond more quickly to a threat”

(“Scope” Internet). However, before jumping face first into AI, the military found the

need to integrate AI systems slowly into tools and weapons. It first put AI software to the

test during Desert Storm. AI-based technologies were used in missile systems (utilizing

the feedback ideals of AI for accurate radar to targeting), heads-up-displays in cockpits2,

and other advancements. In addition to military applications, AI has also moved into the

common home. Computer programs for “. . . the Apple Macintosh and IBM compatible

computer, where such programs as voice and character recognition have become recently

available”(“AI Put To The Test” Internet). Through AI, simple things like steady picture

camcorders have come to the general public. With greater demand and a larger market

for AI-related technology, new advancements are becoming available more rapidly than

ever thought possible.

So if AI is already in use, why continue researching it? Winston, the professor

from MIT, believes that in the near future, “. . . we must use our energy, food, and human

resources wisely and we must have high quality help from computers to do it.” As the

world grows larger and more complex than imagined, “the computers must help not only

by doing ordinary computing, but also by doing computing that exhibits

intelligence”(Winston 2). Winston also proposes many recommendations of what he

thinks AI could or should be doing soon. He states that in farming, computers should help

control pests, prune trees, and enable selective harvesting of mixed crops. In

manufacturing, computers should be doing assembly and inspection jobs of all kinds. In

hospitals, computers should help with diagnosis, monitor patients, manage treatment, and

make beds. Winston believes that computers with intelligence would be an invaluable

resource to humans(2).

Despite the realization that people are constantly finding new uses for AI, it

would be a newcomer’s mistake to forget that it may also hold dangers to the traditional

acceptance of what a machine can do. We have learned from experience that people

don’t always welcome new methods or materials as soon as they are available. This holds

true for AI, but scientists believe this is the wrong thing to do. First of all,

. . . we should be prepared for a change. Our conservative ways may

standing the way of progress. AI is a new step that is very helpful to

society. Machines can do jobs that require detailed instructions followed

and mental alertness. AI with its learning capabilities can accomplish

those tasks but only if the worlds [sic] conservatives are ready to change

and allow this to be a possibility. It makes us think of how early man

finally accepted the wheel as a good invention, not something taking away

from its heritage or tradition(“What We Can Do” Internet).

Also, in order to be ready to welcome the advantages accompanying AI, and to prevent

its misuse,

. . . we must be prepared to learn about the capabilities of it. The more we

get out of the machines the less work is required by us. In turn less injuries

and stress to human beings. Human beings are a species that learn

by trying, and we must be prepared to give AI a chance seeing AI as a

blessing, not an inhibition(“What We Can Do” Internet).

Finally, people must prepare for the worst with AI. As we do know from history, nothing

starts out perfectly. So “. . . something as revolutionary as AI is sure to have many kinks

to work out”(“What We Can Do” Internet). But people always seem to have the fear that

“. . . if AI is learning based, will machines learn that being rich and successful is a good

thing, then wage war against economic powers and famous people?”(“What We Can Do

” Internet). These are the risks we have to be prepared for and must be willing to take in

order to advance technology. However, although the fear of the machines is there, we

must remember that “. . . their capabilities are infinite”(“What We Can Do” Internet). To

control AI, we need to bear in mind that

AI machines are like children that need to be taught to be kind, well

mannered, and intelligent. If they are to make important decisions, they

should be wise. We as citizens need to make sure AI programmers are

keeping things on the level(“What We Can Do” Internet).

We are responsible for making sure they do their job correctly, so that “. . . no future

accidents occur”(“What We Can Do” Internet).

So now the warnings and the base for AI development are both there. The current

projects in AI are appearing to function with undeniable success. Consequently the future

of AI is limitless, so people think. But one fundamental question about AI remains

unanswered: Is it possible for computers – simple machines – to actually think in the same

manner as does the human mind? As Marc Leepson points out in the Editorial Research

Report “Artificial Intelligence”,

There is no doubt that computers can be programmed to make inferences.

But it has yet to be proven that an inanimate object can be imbued with

human knowledge and the ability to learn. A computer, after all, has no

intrinsic intelligence. It is a machine that manipulates symbols that it

recognizes, but does not understand the meaning of the symbols it

processes (634).

Therefore, although being able to crunch millions of numbers or symbols per second,

computers still cannot emulate the many and widely varied processes of the human mind.

According to Tom Alexander, author of many published AI reference materials, such

processes include “. . . the rich associations, metaphors and generalizations that language

invokes in people and that constitute the essence of meaning and thought . . . which

consists less of logic and recognizing symbols than it does of mental images and

analogies — things no one has been able to define in terms computers can grasp”(106).

Today’s programs only create an “. . . empty mimicry. . . ” of human intelligence and

action. They still only have “. . . the limited repertoire of a clockwork doll rather than a

respectable simulation of human intellect”(106).

This simulation of human intellect is commonly referred to as the “Aha!” theory.

This theory is due to the fact that humans can sometimes solve a problem spontaneously

without using any traceable logical path. In spite of that, researchers believe that one day

it may be possible to program a computer with something virtually identical to human

common sense and intuitive capabilities. “Common sense is a question of how much you

know about a domain,” stated Assistant Professor from Computer Science Ramesh Patil

of MIT. “The kind of reasoning that goes on in making common-sense reasoning we are

starting to get a very good handle on.” Nevertheless, he said, “building a program that

would have as much common sense as you and me is still out of reach”(qtd. in Leepson

635). Currently the only computers capable of this are found in science fiction novels,

but it is believed that in just a matter of time a fully thinking machine will be as common

as the wristwatch.

Until that time, however, we must remember the current situation. Herbert Simon

best states it by saying,

It is not my aim to surprise or shock you — but the simplest way I can

summarize is to say that there are now in the world machines that can

think, that can learn and that can create. Moreover, their ability to do these

things is going to increase rapidly until — in a visible future — the range of

problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to which the

human mind has been applied(qtd. in “Introduction” Internet).

We must keep in mind that AI has been developing for over 30 years and it may take that

much longer before another major breakthrough, like The Logic Theorist, happens again.

The artificial intelligence field may bring with it too many benefits to abandon the

research now.

Works Cited

Alexander, Tom. “Why Computers Can’t Outthink the Experts.” Fortune 20 August


“Artificial Intelligence, and Robot Wisdom.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

“Artificial Intelligence Put to the Test.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

“Beginnings of Artificial Intelligence, The.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

“Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, An.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

Leepson, Marc. “Artificial Intelligence.” Editorial Research Report 16 Aug 1985:


“Scope of Expert Systems, The.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

“What We Can Do With Artificial Intelligence.” Online. Internet. 15 May 1997.

Winston, Patrick Henry. Artificial Intelligence. Reading, Massachusetts:

Addison-Wesley, 1977

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