Artificial intelligence is overhyped--there, we said it. It's also incredibly important.
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.
Artificial intelligence as we know it began as a vacation project. Dartmouth professor John McCarthy coined the term in the summer of 1956, when he invited a small group to spend a few weeks musing on how to make machines do things like use language. He had high hopes of a breakthrough toward human-level machines. "We think that a significant advance can be made," he wrote with his co-organizers, "if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer."
Those hopes were not met, and McCarthy later conceded that he had been overly optimistic. But the workshop helped researchers dreaming of intelligent machines coalesce into a proper academic field.
Early work often focused on solving fairly abstract problems in math and logic. But it wasn't long before AI started to show promising results on more human tasks. In the late 1950s Arthur Samuel created programs that learned to play checkers. In 1962 one scored a win over a master at the game. In 1967 a program called Dendral showed it could replicate the way chemists interpreted mass-spectrometry data on the makeup of chemical samples.