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With Artificial Intelligence (AI) firmly established in both the global lexicon and mainstream media, the world is abuzz with how AI might revolutionize our world…or possibly bring about the end of humanity. What is AI and, most importantly, why should it matter to you?  In a multi-part series, we will begin to dissect the multifaceted aspects of AI, why it should matter to you, how machine learning and other aspects of AI are being applied today, and what the future might hold.  Our first post will shine light on the origins of AI and highlight some modern applications.

Origins of AI

A simple definition of AI would include the science of making machines complete tasks that require intelligence when done by humans. However, the concept of building a machine to perform useful reasoning may have begun as early as 1300 with Ramon Llull, who is considered a pioneer of computation theory.  In the mid-19th century, Ada Lovelace’s early work on an Analytical Engine led to the creation of the first algorithm, an enormous benchmark in the genesis of AI.  And, as depicted in the 2014 historical thriller The Imitation Game, British mathematician Alan Turing’s efforts to decrypt the German Enigma machine paved the way for computer science as we know it today.


From Left: Ada Lovelace, the first programmer; Alan Turing and replica of Turing Bombe at Bletchley Park


While the concept of artificial systems solving intelligent problems has existed historically, the field of AI research was established at a Dartmouth College conference in 1956. Attendees included a de facto list of the Founding Fathers of AI; among them were John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, Arthur Samuel and Herbert Simon. (Worth noting is that Milind Tambe, a co-founder of Avata Intelligence, was a mentee of Allen Newell at Carnegie Mellon University.)  


Attendees of the 1956 Dartmouth Summer Research project on AI, reunited at July AI@50 conference. From left: Trenchard More, John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Oliver Selfridge, and Ray Solomonoff


Since the inception of AI, the field has grown dramatically, but grandiose expectations fueled by Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey outpaced practical use of the technology.  Data scientists soon realized creating systems that could address meaningful problems proved more computationally taxing than originally anticipated.  For this reason, AI found little use in everyday applications until recently.  With Moore’s law (the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years) unfolding before our eyes, AI achieved global attention when the IBM computer Deep Blue defeated reigning World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game rematch on May 11, 1997.  Since 1997, the world has witnessed the defeat of the two greatest Jeopardy champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, by IBM’s Watson, and Google’s AlphaGo reign victorious over champion Lee Se-dol.


From Left: Deep Blue, Watson and AlphaGo


Even if you write off world-renowned players losing to an AI system as pure spectacle, AI will continue to influence your everyday life.  How, you ask? Netflix uses AI to recommend future films based on your recent viewings.  In finance, AI is used to detect fraudulent activity and protect your personal assets. In medicine, nascent uses of AI include more accurate patient diagnosis, medical image interpretation, and therapeutic treatment via robots. Robots, in fact, have become the standard for many industrial tasks that could be potentially hazardous to their human counterparts. Ever wonder why you see ads for specific products on Facebook right after you’ve done a Google search for a similar product?  Yep, that’s AI too.  Tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are incorporating AI assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana, respectively) into their products to help you with everyday activities. The interaction you had on the phone just now with customer service?  A distinct possibility you were interacting with an AI bot.



All of this is only the beginning.  Avata Intelligence is proud to present our new blog series, Journey Into AI.  We’ll take a closer look at the subject of Artificial Intelligence and try to answer these important questions:

What is AI?
What are some of the different tools within AI?
How does AI currently impact our lives?
How will AI impact our lives in the future?
How are organizations using AI?
What problems might AI provide solutions for?