When I was a child I was enchanted by computers, but has my Sorcerer’s Apprentice moment arrived?
First encounters of the computer kind
My relationship with computers started at age 7. A friend of the family invited us round and showed us his. He was a university professor and his green screen terminal allowed him to tap into the mainframe.
What is your name?
He let me type in Matt, and it responded.
Good morning, Matt.
I was enchanted. Up until this point I had wanted to be a magician like that Paul Daniels off the tele (I wrote about that here).
Now there was a new kind of magic. A machine that could learn your name and wish you good morning.
My first computer
I am grateful to my parents that they saw the potential benefits of computers and bought me and my brother our first one when I was 9.
It was a Sinclair ZX-81 and had 1k of memory. Now I had the ability to create programs, like the one that wished me a good morning.
We soon upgraded to the Spectrum with 48k and the great cycle of upgrading computing power began.
One of the first programs that felt like the computer could read my mind was the 20 questions game. Mr Wade, my class teacher when I was about 11 played it at the end of every day with us.
By asking YES/NO questions you try to guess what the other player is thinking of. You have twenty questions to get there.
I had a version of this for the computer, and it was rarely right, but I loved it.
I went on to study computer science at university and AI was a fledgling subject. It had some successes — there were computers that could beat me at chess, but it stalled somewhat.
Since then AI has been slowly building in the background. Getting better and more useful. And more sinister.
Today I received an email from
I went and had a play with it, and it is beyond anything I’ve seen before.
You can use any sentence to ask a question and it will respond with something that makes sense. For example,
What is the history of AI?
The history of artificial intelligence (AI) stretches back to ancient times, with early examples of AI-like devices and concepts appearing in Greek mythology and other ancient texts. However, the modern field of AI as we know it today began to take shape in the 1950s and 60s, with the development of the first digital computers and the early efforts to create systems that could mimic human intelligence.
Some key milestones and events in the history of AI include:
1950: The term “artificial intelligence” is coined by computer scientist John McCarthy.
1956: The first AI conference is held at Dartmouth College, where the term “artificial intelligence” is officially adopted.
1969: The first computer program to defeat a human at a game of chess is developed by Herbert Simon and Alan Newell.
1974: The first successful intelligent tutoring system is developed by Kenneth Colby.
1997: The first computer program to defeat a human at the game of Go is developed by Jonathan Schaeffer.
2010: The first successful demonstration of a driverless car is achieved by Google.
Since these early milestones, the field of AI has continued to evolve and grow, with significant advances in areas such as machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision. Today, AI is a rapidly growing and evolving field with many potential applications and implications for society.
It isn’t connected to the internet, and has been trained on data up to 2021, so it won’t answer current affairs questions, but even so it seems like magic.
I wrote a few days ago about John Truby’s new book The Anatomy of Genre here and I now have my copy.
The first genre that he discusses is horror. The fundamental question of horror is:
What is human and what is inhuman?
Which comes in two flavours:
- What is man and what is animal?
- What is man and what is machine?
What is man and what is machine?
When I saw The Terminator for the first time as a child I loved it. Even more so with the sequel. It was one of the first times I remember loving a sequel more than the original.
That movie seemed a nightmare beyond imagining at the time.
I loved the movie, but I wasn’t really scared.
Now, I’m not so sure.