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June 28th, 2006
Fictional Accounts of Artificial Intelligence Serve as Models for the Real Thing
By Dale Roethlisberger

Exploring written works for signs of Arti (Artificial Intelligence) can be a complex activity. It’s hard to determine just exactly when the concept of artificial intelligence first appeared in speculative stories. Robot-like intelligences can go back as far as the epic tale of “Gilgamesh”. Some have interpreted the story in this fashion (see the “Outer Limits” episode ‘Demon With a Glass Hand’). However, since I was a child of the 1950’s, this is where we will begin. There’s good reason to start with fictional tales of Arti written in the 1950’s. Mainstream use of computers hit their stride at this time. This was the time when most people had their first exposure to machines that could ‘think’ in an albeit limited way.

Two novels come to mind immediately. First, “Against the Fall of Night” by Arthur C. Clarke (later re-released as “The City and the Stars”) introduced us to the “master associators”. These intelligent machines contained the sum total knowlege of everything that had taken place in the city of Diaspar for eons. There was only one catch. Even though the master associators were highly intelligent, you still had to know how to ask the right questions. A second novel comes to mind as a defining point for Arti. Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot” first appeared in the mid-50’s. This novel set the stage for the societal implications of artificial intelligence. The “Three Laws of Robotics” have become a mainstay of our thoughts on Arti.

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