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Artificial intelligence is decades old and just getting started

How AI got to where it is today, what the tech giants are doing to apply it to their thorniest challenges, and where it’s going next.

Artificial intelligence is decades old and just getting started
[Photos: Gearstd/iStock; PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock]
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If ever an area of technology managed to be both long-established and bleeding-edge, it’s artificial intelligence.

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On one hand, fundamental concepts such as neural networks and machine learning were established before many of the computer scientists currently putting them to work were born. Then they went through multiple boom and bust cycles until they got to the present day, which is most assuredly a boom.

But almost nothing about AI’s applications in the real world feels like a solved problem. The world is still learning how to apply its technologies to the innumerable areas where digital smarts can help out human beings. It’s as if it took six decades just to get to the starting line.

This week, in our series “The New Rules of AI,” we’ll look at some of the ways AI is getting out of the labs and into our lives. We’ll begin by providing some historical context, traveling all the way back to the 1940s to chronicle the breakthroughs that got us to where we are today. Then we’ll investigate the heavy lifting being done at tech giants to apply AI to conversational bots, content moderation, workplace productivity, pharmaceutical discovery, and other fields. Along the way, we’ll examine cases where people still excel at tasks that computers have not yet mastered. And we’ll end by talking to experts who are defining guidelines to make AI a net plus for society—not just today, but for decades to come.

Click here to see all the articles in the series, and come back throughout the week for more stories.

About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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