July 21, 1976
The unprecedented opportunities for experiments in complexity presented by the first modern computers in the late 1940's raised hopes in early computer scientists (eg. John von Neumann and Alan Turing) that the ability to think, our greatest asset in our dealings with the world, might soon be understood well enough to be
duplicated. Success in such an endeavor would extend mankind's mind in the same way that the development of energy machinery extended his muscles.
In the thirty years since then computers have become vastly more capable, but the goal of human performance in most areas seems as elusive as ever, in spite of a great deal of effort. The last ten years, in particular, has seen thousands of people years devoted directly to the problem, referred to as Artificial Intelligence or AI. Attempts have been made to develop computer programs which do mathematics, computer programming and common sense reasoning, are able to understand natural languages and interpret scenes seen through cameras and spoken language heard through microphones and to play games humans find challenging.
There has been some progress. Samuel's checker program can occasionally beat checker champions. Chess programs regularly play at good amateur level, and in March 1977 a chess program from
Northwestern University, running on a CDC Cyber-176 (which is about 20 times as fast as previous computers used to play chess) won the Minnesota Open Championship, against a slate of class A and expert players. A ten year effort at MIT has produced a system, Mathlab, capable of doing symbolic algebra, trigonometry and calculus operations better in many ways than most humans experienced in those fields. Programs exist which can understand English sentences with restricted grammar and vocabulary, given the letter sequence, or interpret spoken...