December 1, 2015

Historical notes on artificial intelligence

This is part of a three post series spanning two blogs.

0. The concept of artificial intelligence has been around almost as long as computers — or even before, if you recall that robots were imagined by the 1920s. But for a while it was mainly academic and perhaps military/natural security research. There’s been a robotics industry for over 50 years. But otherwise, when I first became an analyst in 1981, AI commercialization efforts were rather new, and were concentrated in three main areas:

1. If I’ve ever gotten too close to a group of companies, it was probably the 1980s AI vendors. I unfortunately earned investment banking fees by encouraging people into money-losing investments in all three areas cited above, in Teknowledge, Artificial Intelligence Corporation and Symbolics respectively. I dated women who worked for Symbolics and Teknowledge. I wrote and performed a satirical song about Inference at an employee party for Intellicorp. Accordingly, when I write about individual companies in the sector, I fear that I may go on at self-indulgent length. So I’ll save all that for another time, and content myself now with a brief and dry survey that does little more than establish some context.

2. The 1980s also saw military-funded research into autonomous vehicles, as well as continued efforts in robotics and machine vision. Frankly, there wasn’t a lot of commercial overlap between these areas and the rest of AI at that time, and the rest of AI is what I tracked more closely.

But in one counterexample, a machine vision company named Machine Intelligence spun off a company that was building a PC DBMS with some natural language query capability. The spin-off company was Symantec. (Obviously, Symantec his pivoted multiple times since.) Machine Intelligence cofounder Earl Sacerdoti also wound up at expert system vendor Teknowledge for a while. So maybe there was more overlap in theory than there was in commercial practice. 

Note: The fact that I’ve mentioned companies named “Artificial Intelligence” and “Machine Intelligence” should illustrate just how early in the AI industry’s history I’m discussing. 🙂

3. Also in the 1980s mix was Japan’s government-funded Fifth Generation Computer project. Let’s ignore that fiasco and move on.

4. The next three developments of note were, in no particular order:

Neural networks also arose in academia, which helped pave the way for today’s machine learning.

5. Text mining, later called “text analytics”, also eventually became a thing. I wrote about that extensively on the Text Technologies blog, so I won’t recapitulate here.

And that’s it for now. More later.

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5 Responses to “Historical notes on artificial intelligence”

  1. What is AI, and who has it? | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on December 1st, 2015 4:25 am

    […] One post gives a general historical overview of the artificial intelligence business. […]

  2. Machine learning’s connection to (the rest of) AI | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on December 1st, 2015 4:28 am

    […] One post gives a general historical overview of the artificial intelligence business. […]

  3. AI memories — expert systems | Software Memories on December 3rd, 2015 12:59 am

    […] One post gives a general historical overview of the artificial intelligence business. […]

  4. clive boulton on December 3rd, 2015 2:54 am

    Boston Dynamics BigDog AI gullibility test:

  5. resource on November 24th, 2020 7:11 am


    Software Memories — History of the software industry, its companies and its personalities

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