Real Intelligence

The age of intelligent machines is upon us. How did we get here? Who led the way?

You probably know that machines beat humans at chess, and that IBM’s Watson beat humans in the television game show Jeopardy. If you live in Silicon Valley, chances are that you’ve seen Google’s autonomous vehicles cruising local streets. But AI also plays a major role in routing commercial aircraft and truck fleets, in planning battles and supply routes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in thousands of other applications that now touch our daily lives.

The IEEE Computer Society’s IEEE Intelligent Systems magazine just established the IEEE Intelligent Systems Hall of Fame, and named 10 inaugural members. In alphabetical order, they are:


Tim Berners-Lee, the 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering and head of the Decentralized Information Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a professor in the Electronics and Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton; director of the World Wide Web Consortium; and a founding director of the Web Science Trust;


• Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in MIT’s Linguistics and Philosophy Department; noted for his theory of generative grammar that revolutionized the scientific study of language;


• Douglas Engelbart, head of a Stanford Research Institute group that developed the first computer mouse, hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to GUIs;


• Edward Albert Feigenbaum, a Stanford University professor emeritus of computer science and cofounder of applied AI startup firms IntelliCorp, Teknowledge, and Design Power;


• John McCarthy, a Stanford and MIT professor who proposed Lisp, time-sharing computer systems, and program correctness proofs; credited with coining the term “AI”;


• Marvin Minsky, Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, who developed the Society of Mind theory with Seymour Papert and many other advances in cognitive theory;


• Nils J. Nilsson, professor of engineering emeritus at Stanford, who while at SRI International developed statistical and neural-network approaches to pattern recognition;


• Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science and statistics at University of California Los Angeles and director of its Cognitive Systems Laboratory; best known for introducing the probabilistic approach to AI and developing Bayesian networks as inference tools;


• Raj Reddy, the Mozah Bint Nasser University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University; and


• Lotfi Zadeh, a University of California, Berkeley computer science professor known for his work on soft computing, fuzzy logic, and neural-net theory.


To put things in perspective for those of us with more pedestrian interests, here are the first 10 inductees of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and George Sisler.

UPDATE, Aug. 29 — After watching this video of a conversation between two Cleverbot avatars, we may not be as close to the age of smart machines as I thought.


Published by

Peter Lewis

Peter Lewis has covered the tech industry since 1982 as a Senior Writer at The New York Times (where he personally registered the domain), Senior Editor at Fortune magazine, and professor of digital journalism at Stanford University. He is a veteran of two startups. One was named "Cool Company" of the year by Fortune, and folded six weeks later.

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