World War II And The Birth Of Artificial Intelligence

2014-06-21_14-59-10June 6th was the 70th anniversary of D-Day, (Operation Overlord) or the Normandy Invasion. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and a turning point in World War II. A military armada carrying more than 156,000 troops across the English Channel started just after midnight. Minesweepers went ahead to clear the waters in preparation for the more than 2,300 landing crafts that would be carrying men, vehicles and supplies. About 6:30 am, troops began coming ashore on a 60-mile front, landing on the five beaches – Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword. (D-Day Fast Facts, May 26, 2014)


Most of us can remember at least one movie made about the landings in Normandy, particularly Omaha Beach. Saving Private Ryan (1998), starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore, follows a small unit sent to retrieve Private Ryan, whose four brothers have been killed in action. Band of Brothers (1980) was a short series produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg; the stories followed “Easy Company” from the landing at Normandy to VJ day. If you are closer to my age, perhaps, you remember The Longest Day (1962), starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum.

Something you might not know about World War II, however, concerns the development of computers. Alan Turing (1912-54) was a British mathematician who made history by breaking the German U-boat Enigma cipher in World War II. This ensured Allied-American control of the Atlantic, but Turing’s vision went far beyond the desperate wartime struggle. Already in the 1930s he had defined the concept of the “universal machine,” which underpinned the computer revolution. In 1945 he was a pioneer of electronic computer design. But Turing’s true goal was the scientific understanding of the mind, brought out in the drama and wit of the famous “Turing test” for machine intelligence, and in his prophecy for the twenty-first century.” (Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges (author), Douglas R. Hofstadter (Foreword), Princeton University Press, May 2012).


Four years before Turing’s apparent suicide, he published a paper entitled, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which appeared in the Journal, Mind. Ray Kurzweil notes that Turing believed by the early 21st century,
“society will simply take for granted the pervasive intervention of intelligent machines in all phases of life, that “the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

Turing went on to lay out an agenda that would in fact occupy the next half century of advanced computer research by describing a series of goals in game playing, decision making, natural language understanding, translation, theorem proving, and, of course, encryption and the cracking of codes. He wrote (with his friend David Champernowne) the first chess-playing program. How accurate he was!

The Turing test is a test of a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligent behavior. In the test, a human judge carries on a natural conversation with a machine. If the participants cannot tell they are talking with a machine, the machine passed the test. Recently, A computer program known as “Eugene Goostman” passed the Turing Test by convincing a group of people, via chat, that it was actually a 13-year-old boy. Developed by PrincetonAI (a small team of programmers and technologists not affiliated with Princeton University,) and backed by a computer and some gee-whiz algorithms, “Eugene Goostman” was able to fool the Turing Test 2014 judges 33% of the time — good enough to surpass the threshold set by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. (The Life and Times of “Eugene Goostman Who Passed the Turning Test” by Lance Ulanoff, Mashable,

Getting back to D-Day and remembrances of World War II, let us not forget the sacrifices and the contributions of all our men and women in the military. Let them be safe wherever they are.
By: Wanda Campbell
Center for Lifelong Learning – 121 South Marion Street, Athens, AL 35611 – 256-233-8262