What is Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a broad discipline. It contains many diverse subfields and it has strong links to areas such as Cognitive Science and Philosphy of Mind. The term "Artificial Intelligence" was first coined by Prof. John McCarthy for a Conference on the subject held at Dartmouth in 1956. McCarthy defines the subject as the "science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs". The term "intelligence" is, of course, the subject of both scientific and philosophical debate. Within Artificial Intelligence many researchers use the term to mean giving computers behaviours which would be thought intelligent in human beings.

Artificial Intelligence research covers a wide range of topics. It includes making computers better at tasks that are widely perceived as intelligent, such as proving mathematical theorems. It also investigates processes we have only recently recognised are of significant difficulty, such as recognising objects in pictures. It even investigates problems which had not even been considered before the invention of computers, such as making it easier to find information on the world wide web.

The field of Artificial Intelligence does not solely concern itself with replicating "human-like" intelligence. Artificial Intelligence systems, such as chess-playing programs, do not necessarily work in "human-like" ways. There is a whole separate field, of Cognitive Science, which devotes itself to understanding the ways humans (and indeed other animals) think. Clearly there are many fertile links between the two fields. In many cases a better understanding of human cognition can lead to advances in Artificial Intelligence. At the same time finding a way to get a computer to peform a task can shed light on ways that humans might think.

Artificial Intelligence, unsurprisingly, has been the inspiration for much speculative fiction. This often involves stories in which computers and/or robots behave like particularly intelligent and physically strong versions of humans. Similar scenarios are occasionally raised in the Press. These tend to be presented in an alarmist fashion. There are a number of both practical and philosophical problems with these ideas, certainly in the short to medium term. It is also entirely unclear that the nature of Artificial Intelligence research is likely to produce this kind of intelligent and malevolent robot. As discussed above, much Artificial Intelligence research is focused on making computers easier for humans to use in various ways. The AISB doesn't deny these possibilities. However we feel that the attention they attract often draws scrutiny away from more immediate concerns. Such concerns include ethically dubious uses of computers here and now and the degree to which our society is already dependent on them.

The fields of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science are wide and fascinating parts of Computer Science and Psychology. The Artificial Intelligence challenge includes the ability to perceive, learn, store information, reason about what is known, communicate using human language, and interact with the physical environment, e.g., move objects. All of these abilities are still being investigated by individual researchers and none can be considered "solved". This makes Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science fascinating and exciting topics of study.