Some of you might know about the Lighthill report from 1973 which was deeply critical of progress in AI. This report was the main factor behind cutting the funding of AI research in the UK, and seems to have contributed to the more global cuts around this time known as the “AI winter”. Via Yee Whye Teh I recently came across a BBC debate between James Lighthill and three supporters of AI research: Richard Gregory, John McCarthy and Donald Michie. You can download the televised debate from here, though be warned that it’s 160MB.
Now, 36 years later, it’s interesting to think about how the speakers’ various views and predictions have played out. Overall, the analysis by Lighthill felt the most coherent to me, and I’d say that what has since happened largely backs him up, though it can be argued that he helped to cause this outcome. I agree that he slowed AI down a lot, but 36 years is a rather long time and in the types of problems that he was focusing on there hasn’t been much progress. In response the other debaters mostly just pointed to small advances that had occurred and indicated that they felt that more advances were on the way. Lighthill then denied that these advances showed any real progress towards intelligence.
This feels a lot like today: sceptics say that AI has made no progress, optimists point to lots of advances, and sceptics then say that these advances are not what they consider to be real intelligence. I think this points to perhaps the most fundamental problem in the field: if you can’t define intelligence, how do you judge whether progress is being made? It’s as true today as it was then, and it’s why I think that trying to define intelligence is so important. I like the fact that they keep on saying that an intelligent machine should be able to perform well in a “wide range of situations”, because, of course, this is very much the view of intelligence that I have taken.