Homage to John McCarthy, the father of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

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Mention “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) and people might think you are talking about science fiction and shiny robots while in fact the science of AI has been around for decades and is all very real.

In fact, recent results from a large survey of machine learning researchers predict AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next ten years, such as translating languages (by 2024) all the way to working as a surgeon (by 2053). Researchers also believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.

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When it comes to AI, it’s difficult to really know where we’re headed, but what we can take away from this research is how far we’ve come from thoughts about AI in science fiction.

The thing is, we don’t always realize when we’re in contact with Artificial Intelligence because we’re getting so used to technology doing new and amazing things every day that we don’t stop to think about the science behind the gadgets or programs that we use.

For example, without Artificial Intelligence, there would be no virtual assistants, either on the web or on your smartphone device (say bye-bye to Siri!!), and there would have been no Artificial Solutions either. We are therefore forever grateful to the people who were the inspiration behind this amazing technology and who have helped make computer science so much more human-like and capable.

Where did the term “Artificial Intelligence” come from?

One of the greatest innovators in the field was John McCarthy, widely recognized as the father of Artificial Intelligence, who on the 24th of October, 2011, passed away at the age of 84. He leaves behind him a great legacy in the field of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

It was in the mid-1950s that McCarthy coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” which he would define as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”.

McCarthy presented his definition at a conference on the campus of Dartmouth College in the summer of 1956 indicating the beginning of AI research, and the attendees, including John McCarthy, became the leaders of AI research for many decades.


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McCarthy, a Stanford University emeritus professor of computer science, also created Lisp, the standard programming language used in robotics and other scientific applications and in a multitude of Internet-based services, from credit-card fraud detection to airline scheduling.

At Stanford University, McCarthy founded an AI laboratory where he worked on early versions of a self-driving car. He produced papers on robot consciousness and free will and worked on ways of making programs understand or mimic human common-sense decision-making more effectively.

Another major McCarthy innovation was an early system of computer time-sharing or networking, which allowed many people to share data by linking to a central computer, and in 1960, when he opined that “computation may someday be organized as a public utility” the underlying concept of cloud computing was stated.

In 1966 McCarthy got the world’s attention when he hosted a series of four simultaneous computer chess matches carried out via telegraph against rivals in Russia. The matches lasted several months and the result was that McCarthy lost two of the matches and drew two.

John McCarthy received many accolades and honors for his achievements in computer science.

In 1971 the Association of Computing Machinery honoured McCarthy with the A.M. Turing Award, the highest recognition in computer science. He received the Kyoto Prize in 1988 and the National Medal of Science in 1990, the nation’s highest technical award.

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McCarthy was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

McCarthy worked in the AI field continuously until semi-retirement from Stanford in 2000 and he also published a small amount of science fiction and commented on future technologies, predicting that the achievement of AI systems and the ability to manipulate genetic code would be the leading scientific developments of the 21st century.

John McCarthy, we salute you.

Editors Note: This post was originally published October 24, 2011 and has since been updated.

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