The Great A.I. Awakening: How Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate (via Mefi) is a fantastic article, both for its contents and as a piece of journalism (I’m enjoying the author’s earlier article on travel photography as a result). As a computer science undergrad in the late 1980s, I took a course on AI, which involved building our own expert systems; it seemed obvious what a challenge that was always going to be, compared with some of the promising machine-learning alternatives. I now see that this was a brief window when neural networks were taken seriously, before their proponents were cast into the wilderness for the next decade and a half. That seems crazy to me, as someone who left the field. In the 1990s I was reading neuroscience theories about how minds emerge in an evolutionary way. Surely these theories and AI research would cross-fertilize each other, leading to new insights in both domains? But it seems that for a long time they didn’t. Maybe they will now.
Last week I had an unexpected urge to revisit some of my earliest programming efforts. Unfortunately, they’re stored on ancient 5¼" floppies which would probably be unreadable, even if I had a 5¼" drive and a way of converting it to USB. Fortunately, at the time I wrote them I also printed out my collection of Apple II and BBC Micro BASIC programs using our school’s dot-matrix printers, and after rummaging through some old boxes was able to find those printouts again.