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.

My first remembrance of Arti as a friend and companion came in “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein. ‘Mike’, the artificial intelligence who woke up when his network got inter-connected enough, was a friend, companion, and conspirator that anyone would envy. Without him, the corrupt Lunar Government would not have been overthrown with as minimal a loss of life as possible. On the other hand, the published version of “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke cements the thought that Arti will have the capacity for good AND evil.

When you look at today’s technical papers and scientific research on Arti, you can easily see the influences fictional works have had on artificial intelligence. We have provided a short list here of some of the best fiction on the subject, but only up to the late 1960’s. In subsequent articles, we hope to show how fictional Arti is deeply engrained in the real thing as scientists continue to inch closer to true artificial intelligence.