Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence (AI) Conference

We propose that a 2 month, 10 man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.

Dartmouth AI Project Proposal; J. McCarthy et al.; Aug. 31, 1955.

The 1956 Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence (AI) conference gave birth to the field of AI, and gave succeeding generations of scientists their first sense of the potential for information technology to be of benefit to human beings in a profound way.

In 1956, John McCarthy invited many of the leading researchers of the time in a wide range of advanced research topics such as complexity theory, language simulation, neuron nets, abstraction of content from sensory inputs, relationship of randomness to creative thinking, and learning machines to Dartmouth in New Hampshire to discuss a subject so new to the human imagination that he had to coin a new term for it: Artificial Intelligence.

This conference was the largest gathering on the topic that had yet taken place, and laid the foundation for an ambitious vision that has affected research and development in engineering, mathematics, computer science, psychology, and many other fields ever since. It was no coincidence that, as early as 1956, evidence indicated that electronic capacity and functionality were doubling approximately every eighteen months, and the rate of improvement showed no signs of slowing down. The conference was one of the first serious attempts to consider the consequences of this exponential curve. Many participants came away from the discussions convinced that continued progress in electronic speed, capacity, and software programming would lead to the point where computers would someday have the resources to be as intelligent as human beings, the only real question was when and how it would happen.

This conference and the concepts it crystallized gave birth to the field of AI as a vibrant area of interdisciplinary research, and provided an intellectual backdrop to all subsequent computer research and development efforts — not to mention many books and movies. This new field’s revolutionary vision was a significant influence on several of the people that helped create the Internet, perhaps most notably J.C.R. Licklider with his concept of a universal network that produces power greater than the sum of its parts. It will also undoubtedly have a tangible impact on technologies and applications developed over the next decade.

Resources: The following references provide more information on artificial intelligence: