Last March, McDonald's Corp. acquired the startup Dynamic Yield for $300 million, in the hope of employing machine learning to personalize customer experience. In the age of artificial intelligence, this was a no-brainer for McDonald's, since Dynamic Yield is widely recognized for its AI-powered technology and recently even landed a spot in a prestigious list of top AI startups. Neural McNetworks are upon us. Trouble is, Dynamic Yield's platform has nothing to do with AI, according to an article posted on Medium last month by the company's former head of content, Mike Mallazzo. It was a heartfelt takedown of phony AI, which was itself taken down by the author but remains engraved in the collective memory of the internet.
By now you've seen the big news about the world's largest fast-food chain by revenue. It was a bit shocking that it took this long to happen, but McDonald's (MCD) is finally embracing advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to boost sales. The guy credited with the turnaround at the 65-year-old restaurant behemoth since 2015, Steve Easterbrook, was behind the technological push that saw McDonald's not only embrace digital innovation but acquire two AI companies this year. This is big news for a few reasons. Before this year, it had been nearly two decades since the company made its last acquisition of a mediocre fast-food chain called Boston Chicken.
The history of artificial intelligence (AI) began in antiquity, with myths, stories and rumors of artificial beings endowed with intelligence or consciousness by master craftsmen; as Pamela McCorduck writes, AI began with "an ancient wish to forge the gods." The seeds of modern AI were planted by classical philosophers who attempted to describe the process of human thinking as the mechanical manipulation of symbols. This work culminated in the invention of the programmable digital computer in the 1940s, a machine based on the abstract essence of mathematical reasoning. This device and the ideas behind it inspired a handful of scientists to begin seriously discussing the possibility of building an electronic brain. The Turing test was proposed by British mathematician Alan Turing in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, which opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" The term'Artificial Intelligence' was created at a conference held at Dartmouth College in 1956. Allen Newell, J. C. Shaw, and Herbert A. Simon pioneered the newly created artificial intelligence field with the Logic Theory Machine (1956), and the General Problem Solver in 1957. In 1958, John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky started the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab with 50,000. John McCarthy also created LISP in the summer of 1958, a programming language still important in artificial intelligence research. In 1973, in response to the criticism of James Lighthill and ongoing pressure from congress, the U.S. and British Governments stopped funding undirected research into artificial intelligence. Seven years later, a visionary initiative by the Japanese Government inspired governments and industry to provide AI with billions of dollars, but by the late 80s the investors became disillusioned and withdrew funding again. McCorduck (2004) writes "artificial intelligence in one form or another is an idea that has pervaded Western intellectual history, a dream in urgent need of being realized," expressed in humanity's myths, legends, stories, speculation and clockwork automatons. Mechanical men and artificial beings appear in Greek myths, such as the golden robots of Hephaestus and Pygmalion's Galatea. In the Middle Ages, there were rumors of secret mystical or alchemical means of placing mind into matter, such as J?bir ibn Hayy?n's Takwin, Paracelsus' homunculus and Rabbi Judah Loew's Golem. By the 19th century, ideas about artificial men and thinking machines were developed in fiction, as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Karel?apek's
Dmitry Malioutov can't say much about what he built. As a research scientist at IBM, Malioutov spends part of his time building machine learning systems that solve difficult problems faced by IBM's corporate clients. One such program was meant for a large insurance corporation. It was a challenging assignment, requiring a sophisticated algorithm. When it came time to describe the results to his client, though, there was a wrinkle.
Artificial intelligence is overhyped--there, we said it. Superintelligent algorithms aren't about to take all the jobs or wipe out humanity. But software has gotten significantly smarter of late. It's why you can talk to your friends as an animated poop on the iPhone X using Apple's Animoji, or ask your smart speaker to order more paper towels. Tech companies' heavy investments in AI are already changing our lives and gadgets, and laying the groundwork for a more AI-centric future.