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The origin of AI started with a woman!

What do you know about the origin of AI?

“The Imitation Game” — released by The Weinstein Company, 2014

On my journey into understanding Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and it’s applications, I discovered that women were there at the start of it all— way to go sisterhood!— but before I get too excited let me retrace my steps.

As I wrote about last week, in my previous article about AI, I have decided to take on a 30-day challenge to learn more about AI. After the first section, I was able to define AI, machine learning, and deep learning and also identify where AI applications exist in my life now.

The end goal is to improve my own knowledge so I can understand where AI has already penetrated my everyday life and also have intelligent conversations about the impact of AI on our collective future.

30 days to understanding

We need to understand how artificial intelligence works and how it is implemented in our daily lives so that we can have a say in our own future. For example:

  • what we accept — the convenience

  • what we don’t accept — the lack of privacy

  • what can be beneficial — advancements in healthcare

I come from a business background so I am using the 30 Day AI journal, by my colleague Steven Mc Auley, to get the impulses needed to generate interest and knowledge. I have now completed the next section which discusses the origins and history of AI.

In the second section, we talk about the Rise of AI

Sounds like a movie title doesn’t it? (In fact, does that movie exist? Nope, just checked, Hollywood take note!) By understanding history we can impact our future, isn’t that what historians often say? If we learned from our past we could prevent future mistakes? Well at least by understanding the history and how it exists today can give us some understanding of the topic.

So some of the questions I wanted to explore about the “Rise of AI” were:

  • When was AI first invented?

  • Who invented it?

  • Who are the main players in the rise of AI?

The best way to learn is to “do” so first things first — as the journal instructs — I tried to define it myself.

. . .

When was AI invented and who invented it?

Honestly? I had no bloody idea.

So I went straight to google! I did not expect the answer to be that it was invented 65 years ago by someone called John!

John McCarthy Obituary — The Independent, 2011

AI, well the term anyway, was invented in 1955 by John McCarthy, who incidentally only passed away recently in 2011. Consequently, because he named it, he is considered the “Father of AI”.

I’d like to think he was one of the “founding fathers” though, as it turns out he did name it, but the first computer program was actually invented by Allen Newell, Herbert A. Simon, and Cliff Shaw.

Programming the Logic Theorist — Semantic Scholar, 1955

It was the first program that had automation in it and therefore was called the “first artificial intelligence program”. Not surprisingly it was called “Logic Theorist”. Logic comes up a lot when talking about computer programming, all those 1s and 0s, and patterns in data I suppose.

Incidentally, McCarthy also organized a conference around AI— an infamous Dartmouth Conference that took place in the summer of 1956 — so I guess we are carrying on that tradition with quite some aplomb when I think of the 50,000+ attendees I wrestled at the Web Summit!

. . .

Who are the main players in the rise of AI? We have the main programmers Newell, Simon, Shaw, and McCarthy, but there is actually someone else that accelerated the capabilities prior to them — and hey, hey, I actually know the answer to this one! I saw The Imitation Game — Alan Turing — boom!

Alan Turing, The Imitation Game — released by The Weinstein Company, 2014

So for the uninitiated, the movie The Imitation Game is about Alan Turing, a British scientist — played by the brilliant actor Benedict Cumberbatch! Alan Turing is the guy who broke the German Enigma code — using this:

Alan Turing Machine, The Imitation Game — released by The Weinstein Company, 2014

During World War II, he developed the machine that broke the code with this machine that could “think”, and while the term AI had not yet been invented yet, after the war, he introduced the aptly named test: The Turing Test.

This test is used in “determining whether or not a computer is capable of thinking like a human being, i.e. if it can mimic human responses under specific conditions.”

The Turing Test is still valid today.

. . .

Who are the main players in the rise of AI? Ah, now we get to modern times and the acceleration of the development of AI and I know who has been pivotal in that!

Andrew Ng or rather Andrew Yan-Tak Ng is a Chinese-American businessman, but that doesn’t really sum it up, he is also a computer scientist, an investor, writer, and adjunct professor at Stanford University.

Andrew Ng — MIT Technology Review, 2017

Basically he led the charge for teaching machine learning through online courses with Coursera as well as But more importantly, for you cat lovers out there, he pioneered the cat result on google!

Yup, that’s right, he trained a neural network using deep learning to recognize cats — and here is the important fact about this — the AI learned to recognize cats after watching YouTube videos and without ever being told what a cat is! It is now the same technology that is used by Google’s Android for speech recognition systems.

. . .

Okay, so where do women fit into this whole picture? Well, actually it’s one woman. And her name is Ada Lovelace.

Source; Image source:

Lovelace — bless her — pre-dates ALL these guys by over a hundred years. She was born over two centuries ago, she lived from 1815–1850, daughter of Lord Byron. She was a “computing visionary” as she recognized the potential of computers beyond just calculating numbers!

She was the pioneer of computing science and took part in writing the first published program. So as far as I am concerned, AI started with a woman! (So does that mean she is the “mother of AI”? Or shall we call her the Queen?)

Are you interested in AI yet?

Actually, as a woman, it was finding out that Ada Lovelace was pioneering programs two hundred years ago that spiked my interest. There are often a lot of barriers for women when it comes to maths and sciences, where some of them naturally excel, which still exists in culture today, so this is a great piece of history to remember to encourage them to enter the world of AI.

So a big shout out to all the women who are engineers, programming, and changing technology so they can have a chance to change the world.

Human-centered AI is critical to our future, we need to develop systems that are continually improving because of human input. More than that we need to ensure that female minds are a part of the development of AI as they are 50% of the human race.

Stay tuned — I will continue to share my progress as I complete the journal!

. . .

Goal: Have more intelligent conversations with colleagues about what AI is, what it isn’t, and what it means to our world. If you want to join me on the journey grab the printed journal or digital journal and follow the impulses — 30 Questions in 30 Days — and explore the Age of AI and our place in it.

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