The history of AI is the history of an overhyped brand that has only very recently come to signify a set of deployable technologies with broad application and clear, if somewhat horrifying, purposes. Over almost seventy years it’s been attached to a range of loosely related projects, none of which have yet come close to delivering on the promise of creating computer systems with human-like intelligence. One insider characterized the story of AI as “the history of failed ideas.” Yet in the process of failing, early AI researchers made vital but incidental contributions to the development of computer technology and computer science. In this talk I’ll ask where did discussion of artificial intelligence come from, why was it so attractive to researchers and sponsors, and what did the lofty rhetoric of machine intelligence have to do with the actual practice of artificial intelligence as it institutionalized through research labs, curricula, textbooks, and professional associations? I’ll also look for continuities and discontinuities between our own moment and earlier cycles of AI hype and disillusionment.
Thomas Haigh, PhD is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Comenius Visiting Professor of the History of Computing at Siegen University. He has published on many aspects of the history of computing including the evolution of data base management systems, word processing, the software package, corporate computer departments, Internet software, computing in science fiction, the “software crisis” of the 1960s, IBM in Europe, and the Colossus code breaking machines.