With my new site A History of Artificial Intelligence, I share a story with over sixty events from the present day dating back to ancient civilizations. The way humans have created artificial intelligence such as self-driving cars and algorithms that recommend books to read has a lot of history behind it. Spanning literature, art, poetry, philosophy, computer science, logic, mathematics, ethics, mythology, and other fields, I create this grand narrative of AI. I hope that, as news unfolds about the concerns and social issues raised by AI technology, we can make informed, educated opinions on them by keeping the past alive. Studying artificial intelligence, robots, automata, androids, and other parts of our culture as they relate to stories and inventions from hundreds of years ago, we can ask the same questions that plagued the ancient Greeks and Romans: What makes us human? How can we ascribe humane qualities to nature? In what way can a computer “think”? These inquiries should take center stage in debates about the future of artificial intelligence as well as the policy and ethical recommendations that guide our decisions.
Through a reddit Secret Santa gift exchange, I received the book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies written by philosopher Nick Bostrom. Though I’ve been incredibly busy with graduate school applications, I’ve read a little bit, and I hope everyone can understand the nuanced complexities of artificial intelligence the same way Bostrom does. I draw upon many of Bostrom’s methods (in speculating about issues and then addressing them from all angles with clarity and precision) as ways for researchers in any area to approach AI. Regardless of how closely I agree with Bostrom’s solutions, he presents a very strong argument by extrapolating and predicting the future of AI using features that can be generalized into trends. By this, I mean he chooses many of the the characteristics of AI that would make sense that will carry on the future, rather than cherrypicking examples that only support his conclusions.
With my timeline, I have been hoping to capture the essence of what AI is by creating a diverse, humanistic narrative that can describe periods and eras punctuated by specific, important events. I’ve found it difficult to decide which events to use for each time period and how they relate to one another, though. I especially struggle in deciding which events to use as the timeline becomes more and more recent. It’s difficult for me to know what current events in the news a worthy of being called “history” and also to determine specific, essential events among all the breakthroughs in AI over the past few decades. I also started the project to show off how to share a story that draws from all academic areas and presents any idea in a casual, generalizable manner. I also wanted to go beyond simply sharing facts or lecturing as much information as possible. Throughout my writing, I imagine all of my friends sitting next to me and pretend as though I’m speaking to them over a cup of tea. I try to communicate as though they would understand what I’m saying.