History of AI

AI is everywhere, from your phone to your washer and dryer. It’s steadily becoming a bigger part of our lives as time goes by and there’s no way to stop it. You just have to embrace it and use it as best you can. It doesn’t matter how you feel about your data being mined by certain companies. AI is still going to be in almost everything you purchase for the rest of your life. So, how did it get this way? Let’s take a look back and see how AI became such a large part of the human condition. Here’s a brief history of AI.

AI Started in 1922

That’s right, AI came into existence way back in the year 1922. It seems hard to believe, but it’s true. You just have to realize that it was nowhere near the technology it is today. It all started when a toy by the name of “Rex” was introduced to the marketplace. This was a small wooden dog for children. It had a little doghouse and all the child had to do was call its name. The toy would then activate and come out of whatever sleep mode it was in so the child could play with it.


Audrey was the next major leap forward for AI. The name was an anagram for “Automatic Digit Recognition machine.” It occupied a six- foot-high relay rack, consumed substantial power, had streams of cables and exhibited the myriad maintenance problems associated with complex vacuum-tube circuitry. It could recognize the fundamental units of speech, which are called phonemes. All it did was recognize digits spoken aloud. That means it was used for automatically dialing for telephones. Where you now say, “Siri, call….” You would have had to recite the person’s full number to this AI.


Then we get to the 1960s and see the advent of Eliza. This was a chatbot developed at MIT by Professor Joseph Weizenbaum. It was created to “demonstrate that the communication between man and machine was superficial.” This AI used pattern matching and substitution methodology into scripted responses to simulate conversation, which gave an illusion of understanding on the part of the program. This was also the time when the “Eliza effect” was coined as a term. It described the tendency of humans to assume that computers are analogous to humans, just like when you call Alexa a “her.”


Moving on to the 1970s, we get a project that was funded, in large part, by the U.S. D.O.D. and DARPA. It was a five-year study of a Speech Understanding Research program, aiming to reach a minimum vocabulary of 1,000 words. Companies and academia including IBM, Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford Research Institute took part in the program. The end result was Harpy, which had mastered about 1000 words, equivalent to a three year old. That’s pretty impressive, but nowhere near as sophisticated as the AI learning that you can use today. It’s still fascinating to look back at the baby steps you have to take to get where you’re going!


Now we’re in the extreme 90s and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are delighting children everywhere and making their parents miserable. It’s also the time when the very first smartphone was created. It came out in 1994 and was named Simon. It really laid the foundation for smart virtual assistants as we understand them in the modern day. Then, 1997 came and Dragon’s Naturally Speaking software could recognize and transcribe natural human speech without pauses between each word into a document at a rate of 100 words per minute. That’s a massive achievement and made AI an actual candidate for something you can use in your home without major levels of frustration.


SmarterChild was launched in 2001 on platforms like MSN Messenger and AIM. It was a text-based application that was able to play games, look up facts, talk to users, and check the weather for you. If you want to look at something that was as close to the modern digital assistants you get today, this was it. It would only be a matter of time until they started shipping it as default parts of your products.


That would happen in 2011 when Siri started being shipped as an installed part of every iPhone. It first come out on the iPhone 4S and it’s been a mainstay ever since. Now you can choose from multiple brands of AI and use them to make sure your coffee gets made on time!