Date of Award

Spring 1989

Document Type





Artificial intelligence, or AI as it is known in the trade journals, is as much a buzzword and a marketing term as it is the title and description of an area of research in computer science or epistemology. To sell a software product, or to sell a programming journal, put the phrase "Artificial Intelligence" on the cover or the wrapper. Editorials abound promising the "common man" the cornucopia of benefits or the Pandora’s Box of troubles that AI will bring to their lives. Science fiction, on paper and on film, has depicted intelligent computers as both benevolent and malevolent. Looking beyond the marketing circus, and disregarding the emotional appeals of the editorials, the question comes to mind, "Does anyone really know if a computer can think?" Researchers in computer science, in the attempt to answer this question, have discovered that they must first answer the more basic question, "What do we mean when we use the word ’think1?" In asking this question, the computer scientist has entered a new realm, a place where the work of the computer scientist intersects the biologist's dissection table, the psychologist's laboratory, and the musings of the philosopher. In addition, any person who speaks English feels that they know what they mean when they say that they "think." However, if you then ask someone to explain what he means when he says "thinking," problems start to occur The concern with artificial intelligence is not a new one. Most people living today would assume that the idea of a thinking machine is necessarily tied to the modern digital computer, and that questions of artificial intelligence therefore arose because of its development. Some would remember the fear of machines replacing men due to factory automation, and would place the concept of AI in the time of Henry Ford and the birth of the large assembly lines in the factories of the world. Fewer still would remember the chess automata of the nineteenth century, and the awe-filled reactions and religious and philosophical arguments that their existence raised on the topic of thinking machines. Even earlier than that, Rene Descartes, the French rationalist philosopher, was asking and answering, in his own mind, the question "Can a machine imitate the thinking of a man?"