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What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a cloth woven from three academic disciplines -- psychology (cognitive modelling), philosophy (philosophy of mind), and computer science -- with further strands from linguistics, mathematics, and logic. These subjects have been forced apart by academic politics and the twentieth-century passion for specialization, but for many purposes they belong together. Joining them is not easy. Psychology and philosophy split in the late nineteenth century; computer science grew up as a branch of mathematics. But the aim of AI is broad: to get below the surface of human behaviour; to discover the processes, systems, and principles that make intelligent behaviour possible. Computers are needed as tools for modelling these mental states and processes.

Practical applications include the design of computer systems that can perceive, learn, solve problems, make plans, and converse in natural language. Such systems are already in commercial use for medical diagnosis, identifying ships from satellite pictures, mineral prospecting, language translation, and science training.

The theoretical aims include attempting to understand how the mind works by investigating the problem of designing machines that have abilities previously possessed only by human beings. This work can only be done successfully if combined with other disciplines that involve a study of the human mind. For example, psychology provides information about human perception, memory, and learning skills. Linguistics illuminates the structures and functions of human languages. Philosophy seeks to clarify our understanding of what it is to be human, typically by examining the concepts we use in explanations of the world, of our own actions, and of the behaviour of others.

This chapter follows the historical route, describing the origins of the three main strands -- cognitive modelling, philosophy of mind, and computer science -- and ending where all three merge into the fabric of AI.

Cogsweb Project: luisgh@cogs.susx.ac.uk