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Optimism as Artificial Intelligence Pioneers Reunite


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AI pioneers

John McCarthy, seated left, who ran the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, at a reunion last month with Vic Scheinman on the right. Standing, from left, are Whit Diffie, Dan Swinehart, Tony Hearn, Larry Tesler, and Lynn Quam.

Credit: John Markoff / The New York Times

An optimistic outlook has returned to the field of artificial intelligence (AI) 45 years after the pronouncement by computer scientist John McCarthy that a thinking machine could be created within a decade. Fueling the renewed optimism is rapid progress in AI technologies.

More than 200 of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory's (SAIL's) original scientists recently convened for a reunion, where the optimism was palpable. On hand were such luminaries as Don Knuth, who wrote the definitive texts on computer programming, and spell-checker designer Les Earnest. Other SAIL alumni included Raj Reddy and Hans Moravec, who made important foundational contributions to speech recognition and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

The development of the graphical user interface was based on the philosophy of simplicity defined by SAIL veteran Larry Tesler, while McCarthy, who was SAIL's director, developed the LISP programming language and the time-sharing approach to computers prior to joining the laboratory.

The strides that AI has made in recent years is especially apparent at Stanford, where a team of researchers developed an autonomous vehicle that successfully traversed 131 miles of mountain roads to win the 2005 Grand Challenge held by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "We are a first-class citizen right now with some of the strongest recent advances in the field," says current SAIL director and Stanford roboticist Sebastian Thrun.

From The New York Times
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