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What is Artificial Intelligence? And its history with women



If you’re new to Artificial Intelligence it might be overwhelming where to start from and what topics in A.I. to cover first. A beginner-friendly, short and clear introduction to the history of A.I. might be the best place to begin. Follow what is A.I. and its history as you begin your journey in the world of Artificial Intelligence.


What is Artificial Intelligence?

Popular belief dominantly associates intelligence with human beings alone and as human beings, we learn from our environment and experiences which enables us to operate, complete our tasks, make decisions, and face a variety of situations.


However, this ability to demonstrate intelligence no longer remains a unique aspect to human beings. In the recent age of technological advancement, we see intelligence demonstrated by machines too.



In most cases, we interact with a machine the same way we do with humans and fail to realize the wonder of it because what once surprised us all has now become normal. This intelligence displayed by a machine is commonly dubbed artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence simulates or mimics human intelligence and often executes tasks that require human intelligence.


In a more textbook context, Artificial Intelligence stems from a branch of computer science that predominantly deals with the creation of machines or software that are capable of performing tasks that are considered unique to humans and their intelligence. This covers a wide range of auditory, visual, tactile, speech, or decision-making functions.




In the 21st Century, we come across A.I. or interact with it without even realizing it, be it with our virtual assistants, weather forecast, stocks, online shopping lists, customer service, bank loans, and more. Without realizing it, Artificial Intelligence has become highly integrated into our lives. Yet how did A.I. slither its way into our lives? How was A.I. ever conceptualized? And most importantly how did A.I. become what it is today? There are a plethora of questions that pop up in our minds and the easiest way to answer that is by understanding the history of artificial intelligence first.



Greeks to the War

The idea of machines possessing intelligence predates our era of rapid technological advancement. The earliest traces of the possibility of A.I. being discussed lie amongst the ancient philosophers and mythology of Greece. The story of Daedalus and his creations, Talos, Pandora, and more are evidence enough that humans have long sought to instill intelligence amongst non-living objects. Coined by John McCarthy, in 1956, during the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence conference, the term Artificial Intelligence has indeed come a long way.




The Turing Point


During and Post the Second World War, we mark the turning point for Artificial Intelligence, no longer was A.I. simply a fictionalized concept restricted to human imagination but it has established itself into reality and grounded itself as a field.


In England, Alan Turing had founded The Bombe, one of the first electro-mechanical code-breaking computers that helped crack the Enigma Code. Turing redefined the parameters of Artificial Intelligence in his work “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” where he set the grounds of how to deal with intelligent machines and also the manners in which to measure or test their intelligence. In the Turing test, it is established that when interacting with a machine and a human, if the human is not able to tell apart the two, then the machine is considered intelligent.




The DSRPAI Era


Following the monumental Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence (DSRPAI) which aimed to draw together researchers to facilitate the field of machine intelligence and artificial intelligence. The introduction of General Problem Solver by Newell and Simon in 1959 tackled the issue of problem-solving and ELIZA by Joseph Weizenbaum (1966), which contributed to the field of speech interpretation, further shaped the way for the development of A.I.


The Dark Ages to the Age of Enlightenment in A.I.


While during the 70s, the funding for research in A.I. had severely reduced both in the United Kingdom and the United States owing to political criticism, computers had begun to become faster and more capable of performing multiple functions better. Despite the reduction of funds in the field of A.I., it thrived in terms of performance in the 90s. 1995 marked the foundation of A.L.I.C.E, inspired by ELIZA. Furthermore, in 1997, for the very first time, IBM’s Deep Blue, won against a reigning world champion. In subsequent years, toy robots too were introduced into the market, including Furby and Sony’s robotic dog AIBO. Over the years, A.I. has accomplished similar feats. In recent times, we’ve had virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana, Alexa as well as the controversial development of humanoid robot Sophia, who’s considered to be the very first robotic citizen. All these combined inventions have contributed greatly to the field of A.I. To date, A.I. remains versatile and dynamic and is constantly evolving, and offers infinite possibilities for our future.



Wondering about the Women in AI?


While the history of the phenomenon of artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t exactly a mystery to most of us, the details get murky when we bring into context particular individuals who actively worked to achieve the pedestal that AI is upon presently. Shrouded even further in obscurity is the identity of women who worked towards what AI has become currently. The field of AI is so patriarchally driven that it almost seems easy to neglect the responsibilities of women - even women who brought about significant changes to the AI industry.


An incident in 1946, for instance, could be brought about only by the involvement of a group of women - yet, when one recounts the history of the world’s first electronic computer, the narrative of these women is often neglected.


In 1946, the expedition to showcase the world’s first numerical calculation computer (or the ENIAC) was spearheaded by the prolonged effort of a group of six women who worked tirelessly to execute the algorithmic processes that the computer undertook. The accounts of these women are, however, erased from the history of AI due to a variety of reasons - in this case, since this machine was unveiled after the end of World War II, America wanted to present itself as a technologically unmatched nation. In this political power struggle, it was all too easy to ignore the months of work that were put forth by the six brilliant, mathematically inclined women.



With the concept of AI taking its roots in the early 1950s, the world was technology’s oyster. Individuals continued to bring forth inventions and ideas, and it seemed like the golden age of technology would never come to an end. However, there’s very little to be heard or read about women who pursued STEM studies in that era. While this does not point to a possibility that women simply did not take up scientific studies, it is a statistic that would lead to a greater gender exclusivity in the current age. Women were largely kept from learning about technology due to a variety of reasons. Since AI was the “next best thing” for humanity and a way for individuals and nations to showcase their technological prowess, it became a space that had no room for women. AI thus transformed into a vicious cycle that gave into misogyny and bigotry, and continues to be so till the present day.


Currently, the problem of women working in AI is a unique one. According to a report from UNESCO, only 22% of the people involved with AI were women - and it is unsurprising to see why. Women working in AI have stagnant paychecks, are not acknowledged for their work, and are often the target for verbal and sexual harassment in the workplace. It is easy to see why technology remains male-dominated to this day - since it drives away most of its female employees and thus leads to a gender-exclusive environment. To this day, it is difficult to come across women working in AI unless you specifically look up the words “Women in AI”, which says a lot about the lack of inclusion in tech workspaces. However, it is not too late for change.


Call To Action


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