Is it possible to formalise reasoning?
In recent years concepts like artificial intelligence or machine learning are everywhere. People think of them as some kind of magical powers (I’ve even seen some AI TV ads!). So I think I dare make two blunt statements about AI: it isn’t magic, and it’s here to stay and change the lives of us all. That’s why this post makes a brief chronology of its history, which starts more than 2,000 years ago; and will continue with a second post that reflects on how these changes can affect society.
What are we actually talking about when we talk about artificial intelligence? Defining the concept is not an easy task and we have to go back a few centuries to do so. Specifically, we can go back to II B.C. when greek philosophers like Aristotle or Euclid developed theories to try to formalise human reasoning with the intention of simulating and mechanising it. Centuries later, other philosophers like the Majorcan Ramon Llull (XIIIth century) with his ‘logic machines’, or Leibniz, Hobbes and Descartes (XVIIth century) explored the possibility of systematising reasoning through geometry and algebra.
Early in the XXth century it seemed that AI would become possible with the outbreak and development of mathematical logic. Scientists and mathematicians wanted to respond the fundamental question ‘Is it possible to formalise all mathematical reasoning?’. The answer was two-fold. On the one hand, they determined that mathematical logic had clear limits but, on the other hand, they were also able to determine that within those limits, any form of mathematical reasoning could be mechanised.
This last insight would be decisive for Alan Turing to create ‘The Turing Machine’ in 1936, an invention that served as inspiration to sparkle scientific argument about the possibility to create intelligent machines. It would be during the second world war that, based on Turing’s theories, the first modern computers were built (ENIAC, Colossus…) and, with them, scientists from different fields (mathematicians, psychologists, engineers, economists and political scientists) started to discuss the idea of creating an artificial brain.
It would be in 1956, during the Dartmouth Conference, when the field of research for artificial intelligence was formally defined as an academic discipline by John McCarthy. This is considered to be the moment of birth of AI.