what is the history of ai

Adapting to the Future: The History of AI

The age of artificial intelligence (AI) is upon us. Although its use may be hotly debated, AI’s ability to revolutionize our lives is on par with the power of electricity — sure, some 19th-century citizens may have been unwilling to blow out their candles, but their denial of progress didn’t stop its inevitable adoption. Today, electricity is considered essential — and AI will soon be joining it.

When revolutionary technology becomes readily available, it redefines many aspects of our lives. Even if you’ve sworn off every chatbot, AI still influences you every day. If your phone has face recognition, you’re already on the bandwagon; and when your favorite streaming service makes personalized suggestions for your next big binge? You can thank AI for that, too.

This isn’t to say you’d be wrong to be wary. The ethics of AI remain uncertain as we debate its rules and regulations — but if you refuse to join the conversation, you might just be left behind.

Read part 1 of our exploration of AI — the history of artificial intelligence.

The ancestry of AI

Artificial intelligence is the ability of software, machines, and other technology to complete complex tasks using an input of data. But here’s the catch — AI can learn. The more we use artificial intelligence, the smarter it becomes.

It may seem like we’re in the midst of an AI apocalypse, but this tech has been a long time coming.


One of the most famous examples of these bygone bots is Wolfgang Von Kempelen’s chess-playing automaton. This alleged AI beacon captivated the attention of international audiences in the 1700s. Although it was later revealed to be a hoax (with a human hidden inside the “robot”), Von Kempelen’s creation captured the imagination of countless onlookers inspiring future inventors to bring Von Kempelen’s fantastical ideas into reality. 


Throughout the 18th century, these robots — whether real or hoax — were quickly established as money-making machines. While early automata like Von Kempelen’s may not have truly been capable of besting Napoleon Bonaparte at chess, bots with simple, automated functions still managed to push the envelope with bold ingenuity. Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s childlike automatons surprised spectators by writing, drawing, and making music. An inventor named Jacques de Vaucanson even invented a “Digesting Duck,” which could eat, drink, and well… you know.     


Evolving automation

AI’s origins lie in recent history, too. In the 20th century, automation began redefining people’s lives both privately and professionally. From manufacturing processes like automobile assembly to handy at-home devices like sewing machines, we’ve always sought ways to simplify our lives with the help of our own inventions. Moreover, with innovations such as self-driving automobiles and text generation, artificial intelligence has been on a steady incline for over a decade.


Yet now, we find ourselves in uncharted territory. While Von Kempelen’s chess player could conquer a quick match, and your sewing machine threads a tight stitch, neither could think or problem solve quite like artificial intelligence. So, where will these modern advancements lead us?

Food for thought

  • Why are we motivated to create technology that replicates human skills and intelligence?
  • In 200 years, how might artificial intelligence and automation evolve?
  • Why do new innovations intimidate — or even scare — us?