In June of 1956, A few dozen scientists and mathematicians from all around the country gathered for a meeting on the campus of Dartmouth College. Most of them settled into the red-bricked Hanover Inn, then strolled through the famously beautiful campus to the top floor of the math department, where groups of white-shirted men were already engaged in discussions of a “strange new discipline”—so new, in fact, that it didn’t even have a name. “People didn’t agree on what it was, how to do it or even what to call it,” Grace Solomonoff, the widow of one of the scientists, recalled later. The talks—on everything from cybernetics to logic theory—went on for weeks, in an atmosphere of growing excitement.
What the scientists were talking about in their sylvan hideaway was how to build a machine that could think.
The “Dartmouth workshop” kicked off the decades-long quest for artificial intelligence. In the following years, the pursuit faltered, enduring several “winters” where it seemed doomed to dead ends and baffling disappointments. But today nations and corporations are pouring billions into AI, whose recent advancements have startled even scientists working in the field. What was once a plot device in sci-fi flicks is in the process of being born.
Hedge funds are using AI to beat the stock market, Google is utilizing it to diagnose heart disease more quickly and accurately, and American Express is deploying AI bots to serve its customers online. Researchers no longer speak of just one AI, but of hundreds, each specializing in a complex task—and many of the applications are already lapping the humans that made them.