The 1956 Dartmouth conference is considered the founding event of Artificial Intelligence. An atypical picture certainly brings together the main actors, but it is difficult to give a name to all the people present.
If you’re interested in the history of Artificial Intelligence, you must have heard about the Dartmouth conference. This event is considered by all as the birthplace of this field of research so present today. The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence initiated by McCarthy was aimed at starting fundamental research groups on the subject of “thinking machines”. Held for eight weeks in Hanover (New Hampshire, US) on the campus of Dartmouth College, it brought together 20 of the most brilliant minds in computer and cognitive science for a workshop devoted to this conjecture from 18 June to 17 August 1956.
While trying to learn more about this conference, I repeatedly found a photograph of 7 people sitting on the grass. You can see them rather relaxed and this arrangement is very different from the official photos where people are lined up standing against each other. The few articles that present this photo indicate, sometimes by positioning them but it is rather rare, the names of a few people but are generally not exhaustive. One person in particular intrigues me and it is this very smiling young man in a high sock on the left and leaning against the tree (position 7). As a reminder, we are in the middle of summer and the temperature has risen to 96°F over the period. I decided to find out who they are and who is hiding behind those socks.
Honour to the initiator: John McCarthy. In 1955, he was a young assistant professor of Mathematics at the above-mentioned college. He decides to organize a working group with the help of a few fellow friends and succeeds in finding the necessary funding for the conference.
On September 2, 1955, the idea of a summer meeting was officially proposed by McCarthy (Dartmouth College), Marvin Lee Minsky (Harvard University), Nathaniel Rochester (IBM Corporation) and Claude Shannon (Bell Telephone Laboratories). This proposal is the origin of the introduction of the term “Artificial Intelligence”.
Here is an excerpt from the project:
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. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer.
John is immediately recognizable. He sits in position 1 and is almost 28 years old. Like Marvin, he wears glasses but, unlike him, he has all his hair. The internet is teeming with pictures of his face allowing me to confirm the match unequivocally.
John McCarthy — At 28 years old and older (photo date not specified).
John passed away at age 84 in 2011. His page is still available on the Stanford website.
The history of AI starts long before Turing, and even before computers.Turing clarifies that he’s interested in machines that “are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.” In other words, he’s interested in complex digital machines.
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