What early artificial intelligence computer program predates the termartificial intelligence, as the program was written before the famous 1956 Dartmouth Summer Research Conference on Artificial Intelligence, which first published the term?
The program is the Logic Theorist, which was written over several months in 1955 and 1956 by Alan Newell, Herbert Simon, and J. C. Shaw while the trio worked for the RAND Corporation.
The Logic Theorist was an early search-tree algorithm program that was designed to efficiently solve formal logic problems. Newell, Simon, and Shaw set the Logic Theorist upon the task of generating proofs for the theorems contained in Principia Mathematica, an influential work of symbolic logic that defines and describes most major mathematic principles using a few basic logical axioms. To keep the processing efficient, the Logic Theorist's search tree was "pruned" using some foundational rules, which the programmers called heuristics, marking the first time this term from formal logic was applied to an artificial intelligence program. (Heuristics is now an entire subfield of AI research.)
The Logic Theorist not only generated proofs for 38 of the theorems in Principia Mathematica, but in at least one case, generated a more elegant proof than had been previously published. Ironically, when the trio tried to publish the new proof, all the major journals rejected it on the grounds that it was too elementary, despite the fact that a computer program was listed as a co-author.
By the same token, no one outside Newell, Simon, and Shaw seemed to initially recognize exactly what the Logic Theorist represented, including the other attendees of the Dartmouth Conference, who seemed unimpressed that someone had already written the computer program the conference was designed to create. Still, that didn't stop the creators of the Logic Theorist from enjoying distinguished careers.
Newell developed a so-called Unified Theory of Cognition, which is one of the foremost models of AI design today. He also shared the Turing Medal for distinction in AI research with Simon. For his part, Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his concepts of bounded rationality. And as for J. C. Shaw, the only computer programmer who actually worked on the Logic Theorist? He's now in the history books for coding the first artificial intelligence ever written.
That's not just a cognitively commendable code-monkeying; it's a synthetically self-aware slice of semi-simulated Geek Trivia.
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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.