Can machines really think?

Can machines really think? This question has been haunting machine intelligence  experts and philosopher way before today’s Siri’s speech understanding, and IBM Watson’s Jeopardy! question answering challenge. Even though today we are not thinking anymore about whether  machines can think or not, the question was quite popular in the heydays of Artificial Intelligence, the cold war, and the pioneers of computer science. The following video includes clips from a 1950 interview replayed in the 1992 PBS documentary The Machine That Changed the World. In the interview, MIT’s professor and scientific advisor to the White House Jerome Wiesner says (it is 1950, and people smoke pipe in public) that machines will be actually thinking in a matter of “four or five years.” Around the same time frame, more than 60 years ago, the “father of machine perception”, Oliver Selfridge from Lincoln Labs  has no doubts that “machines can and will think” even though he is sure that his daughter will never marry a computer. And in a 1960 Paramount News feature dubbed “Electronic brain translates Russian to English” (electronic brain? eek…) an early machine translation engineer states, without the slightest shade of doubt in his voice, that if “their experiments” go well, they will be able to translate the whole output from the Soviet Union in just a few hours’ computer time a week. In the video there is even a brief appearance of Claude Shannon, the father of “information theory.” Enjoy the video:

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~ by Roberto Pieraccini on June 18, 2012.

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