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What is artificial intelligence?

| Sunday, April 6, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Artificial intelligence is the science and engineering of making machines think like humans.

It was born during a 1956 Dartmouth conference, when a few prominent computer scientists came together to discuss how to achieve intelligent machines, rather than machines that are massive numbers crunchers.

At the conference, Carnegie Tech professors Herbert Simon and Allen Newell introduced "Logic Theorist," which solved complicated mathematical theorems and is known as the first AI program.

Because scientists saw things such as higher math and chess as among the brain's highest achievements, early breakthroughs in those pursuits led many to underestimate how quickly they could make thinking computers.

But true intelligence implies consciousness. It is bound up in all sorts of things we take for granted, such as sight and creativity, but are not easily described in mathematical formulas.

Systems that route airport traffic, understand when you say "operator" and decide whether to approve credit card purchases and mortgage applications all derive from using data bases to detect patterns and statistical relationships. So does Google.

But no program has passed the "Turing test." Named after Alan Turing, the British computer pioneer who devised it, the test says a machine can be considered intelligent when it can converse at length with humans and trick them into thinking it is one of them.


CMU and A.I.

1956: Carnegie Tech professors Herbert Simon and Allen Newell demonstrate "Logic Theorist" at the first AI conference at Dartmouth.

1968: CMU Ph.D. student Ross Quillian proposes semantic networks, a foundation of AI research.

1976: Professor Raj Reddy and his team's "Harpy" system recognizes 95 percent of spoken words, the top performer in a federal AI project.

1980: Stanford Ph.D. student Hans Moravec develops the first robot to navigate on its own. He takes a research post at CMU.

1989: Ph.D. student Feng-hsiung Hsu brings his chess program to IBM. Renamed Deep Blue, it beats world champion Garry Kasparov 8 years later.

1994: Professor Michael Mauldin's Lycos is the biggest search engine on the Web.

1997: World's first robot soccer championship is won by professor Manuela Veloso's team.

2007: Professor Red Whittaker's robot-driven SUV wins a federally sponsored $2 million road rally.

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