What is AI and might it blow away?

John McCarthy <jmc@sail.stanford.edu>
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 08:03:33 -0700
From: John McCarthy <jmc@sail.stanford.edu>
Message-id: <9309141503.AA25893@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
To: interlingua@ISI.EDU
Subject: What is AI and might it blow away?
Reply-To: jmc@cs.stanford.edu
Dan Schwarz wrote:

     A definition I sometimes give to my students is: AI is that
     field of endeavor which is concerned with understanding the
     activities of the human mind and simulating those activities
     on a computer.

This is wrong for two reasons.

1. AI is not limited to those methods of achieving goals that are
used by humans.

2. The main methods of research and development in AI involve
investigating the kinds of intellectual problems that arise
in the world in the achievement of goals.  The methods of
psychology and neurophysiology are hardly used, although not
for lack of trying.  In short, as Feynman said, the proper study
of mankind is not just man, but the world.

	As a scientific endeavor AI will continue along with
physics,chemistry, mathematics and astronomy.  In the main it will
share their fluctuations in funding, although there will be some
additional fluctuations based on the perceived success or lack of it
of the engineering side of AI.  The recent politicians' demands to
make science more applied will have a temporary effect, because
they aren't really anti-science.  George Brown's bark is worse
than his bite will turn out to be.

I don't see standards as having more than a secondary role in
making AI technology more successful.

I confess I was surprised that a large AI industry was built up
on the limited scientific base of the middle 70s.  I still can't
tell how much of the expert system game is accomplishment and
how much is wishful thinking.

I conjecture that some of the successes could have been achieved
by old-fashioned programming methodology but weren't, because
this methodology had become very set in its ways.