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Early pioneers

In this step, we look at some of the early developments in AI.
My name’s Mark Elshaw, Dr Mark Elshaw. I’m a lecturer in computing at Coventry University in the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics and my experience is of course as a lecturer I’m responsible for putting together the introduction to the AI module for our computer science, our BSC in computer science and in the past I’ve been researcher in robotics in particular related to how to create biologically inspired robotics, you know, robots that are based on the concepts of how the brain processes or how humans or animals perform and also I’ve done a little bit work on the concept of using intelligent agents to advise and assist people.
I think AI is, as since the 19 sort of 50’s the concept of artificial intelligence has grown in importance and of course we’ve had people like Alan Turning and the Dartmouth Project and have come up with the ideas, they came out with the idea that artificial intelligence is anything that we do as human beings that we can get a machine to do, we count that as artificial intelligence. Of course, that’s been seen as very broad because I can add two numbers together and if we get a calculator to add two numbers together we wouldn’t count that as intelligence.
So, so I think artificial intelligence has moved on more into the idea that it’s anything that includes you know, machine learning, planning, social interaction, searching, you know, there’s a massive search space to a solution to a problem. There are thousands of answers or whatever so the artificial intelligence considers those and produces the best solution to a problem.

So how did practice and research into artificial intelligence emerge? The origins go back further than you might think.


Mechanical artefacts with moving parts have been engineered over the centuries. One famous example is the Silver Swan automaton built in the 18th century. The swan swerves and rotates to music and bends down to catch mechanical fish. It is on display in the UK’s Bowes Museum.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Vannevar Bush

Some of the theoretical groundwork for the studies of artificial intelligence was laid by the American scientist, Vannevar Bush. In 1945 he wrote an article for The Atlantic in which he described a mechanised store of information that could allow speedy and effortless retrieval:

Bush, V. (1945) ‘As We May Think’

The origins of the term ‘artificial intelligence’

Soon afterwards, Alan Turing investigated machine intelligence, following his codebreaking efforts in the second world war, which led to the birth of a new field of scientific study. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined by computer scientist John McCarthy in 1955 and he presented his definition of the term as ‘the science and engineering of intelligent machines’ at a now-famous 1956 Dartmouth College conference (Schofield 2011).

Your task

Watch the video of Mark Elshaw from Coventry University at the beginning of this step, discussing how the concept of artificial intelligence has changed since the 1950s.
Post your thoughts in the comments area.

Further reading

Knapp, S. (2006, July 24). Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present and Future. Vox of Dartmouth: The Newspaper for the Dartmouth Faculty and Staff


Bush, V. (1945). As We May Think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176(1).

Schofield, J. (2011). John McCarthy Obituary. Guardian Online

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Artificial Intelligence: Distinguishing Between Fact and Fiction

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