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Artificial intellience gets its name, plays lots of chess

AI Gets Its Name
In 1965, scientist Herbert Simon optimistically declared that "machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do," while in a 1970 article for Life magazine Marvin Minsky claimed that "in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being."

Unfortunately, that initial burst of optimism felt between the late 50s and early 60s would soon dissipate. In 1970, British mathematician Sir James Lighthill wrote a highly critical report on AI research, stating that "in no part of the field have discoveries made so far produced the major impact that was then promised."

The subsequent withdrawal of vital funds in both the US and UK dealt a serious blow to AI research, leading to the first 'AI winter' which would last until the early 80s.

The 80s and Expert Systems
AI research briefly recovered from its winter in the early 80s. Hastened by new advances in integrated circuit technology, research into what was termed 'expert systems' became a financially viable solution for business and industry – sadly, this fresh period of research would also prove to be short lived. Expert systems, initially seen as a hugely beneficial corporate tool, ultimately proved to be expensive, cumbersome and difficult to update, and the associated companies that sprang up like daisies in the early part of the decade had all collapsed by 1987.

These apparent 'boom and bust' periods seen throughout the history of AI research earned it something of a bad reputation; in 2005, New York Times writer John Markoff said "at its low point, some computer scientists and software engineers avoided the term artificial intelligence for fear of being viewed as wild-eyed dreamers."

Kasparov vs IBM
The attempt to create a Chess program that could play at a grandmaster level, an endeavour began over 50 years before by Alan Turing, was still proving elusive in the late 90s.

The story of artificial intelligence Artificial intellience gets its name, plays lots of chess
Garry Kasparov, in the midst of one of his battles with IBM's Big Blue

Philosopher Hubert Dreyfus predicted that a computer could never play chess at the same level as a human because it couldn't distinguish between strategically useful and dangerous areas of the board. For many years, Dreyfus's predictions appeared to hold true. IBM's machine Deep Thought lost against world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1989. But in February 1996, the first signs of progress appeared when Deep Thought's successor, Deep Blue, played reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov. While Kasparov went on to win the match overall, Deep Blue succeeded in securing victory in one game, therefore becoming the first computer to beat a world chess champion.

Deep Blue's dedicated hardware used 32 parallel processors, and was capable of calculating 200 million possible moves per second. "It makes up for strategic blindness with brute-force enumeration of tactical possibilities," wrote New Scientist's Donald Michie, shortly after Kasparov's defeat in 1997.

As professor Noel Sharkey put it, "A computer like Deep Blue wins by brute force, searching quickly through the outcomes of millions of moves. It is like arm-wrestling with a mechanical digger."