Artificial-intelligence research revives its old ambitions

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The birth of artificial-intelligence research as an autonomous discipline is generally thought to have been the monthlong Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence in 1956, which convened 10 leading electrical engineers -- including MIT's Marvin Minsky and Claude Shannon -- to discuss "how to make machines use language" and "form abstractions and concepts." A decade later, impressed by rapid advances in the design of digital computers, Minsky was emboldened to declare that "within a generation ... the problem of creating'artificial intelligence' will substantially be solved." The problem, of course, turned out to be much more difficult than AI's pioneers had imagined. In recent years, by exploiting machine learning -- in which computers learn to perform tasks from sets of training examples -- artificial-intelligence researchers have built special-purpose systems that can do things like interpret spoken language or play Jeopardy with great success. But according to Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor of Brain Sciences and Human Behavior at MIT, "These recent achievements have, ironically, underscored the limitations of computer science and artificial intelligence.