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Since the invention of the computer, AI and IT have been closely related. Think of Lady Lovelace, who worked in 1837, together with Charles Babbage, on the first design of a programmable computer. Back then it was known as an ‘algebraic machine’ and she named it The Analytical Engine.

Lady Lovelace was the daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron, and was a gifted mathematician and intellectual. When she translated an Italian article on algebraic machines, she supplemented it with extensive notes on such machine’s capabilities. These notes, published in 1843, prove that she was the first to record that a machine could be programmed to solve problems of any complexity or even compose music. This formed the inspiration for theories on logic that resulted in the programming languages in use today.

Lovelace died early and the Analytical Engine was not built during her lifetime. Her soulmate Mr. Babbage did create a trial model of the Analytical Engine that is displayed in the Science Museum in London.

She is regarded as the first computer programmer but was most likely thinking about AI, or what we would call AI today, when she said: “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatsoever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow an analysis, but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truth.”

Her statement has been debated by Alan Turing, another example of a person in which the close relationship between AI and IT comes together. He defined a test, named after himself, of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior. The test is an experimental setup. Someone judges a conversation without knowing whether the conversation is with a human or a machine. All participants are separated from one another. The Turing test is successful if none of the participants is able to tell the difference between communicating with the machine and communicating with the (other) human. This test, in many variations, still plays a role in defining AI.

At the same time Turing played a crucial role by creating one of the first computers based on the Von Neuman design: a computer that had a stored-program.  This marked the beginning of programmable machines, the start of executing the vision of Lady Lovelace and the rise of the software industry.

The consequences of this innovation for humanity have been huge and were, at the time, difficult to oversee. There were pioneers, visionaries, investments and failures needed to get us to where we are today. I am so grateful with the result. Every day I use a smart phone to provide me travel advice, ways to socialize and recommendations on what to buy. Computers also help me memorize and acquire new knowledge. Many of these innovations are related to technology developed by researchers in Artificial Intelligence. The full potential has not yet been exploited.

Continue reading in the book: AIX artificial intelligence needs explanation.