How to kill AI: James Lighthill and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Winter

Speaker: Jon Agar # UCL

6th Nov 2017

15:30 - 17:00

Chrystal MacMillan Building, 6th Floor staff room

With AI all over the news, it is worth revisiting the time when it (nearly) died. In 1973, the British applied mathematician James Lighthill authored a report, Artificial Intelligence, for the Science Research Council. It was highly critical of claims made for types of artificial intelligence research, and led to cuts in funding not just in the UK but elsewhere in the world. These plunges in support for AI were labelled ‘AI winters’ in the 1980s, and are a distinctive feature of the field. In this paper, drawing on archival documents, I re-examine the causes and consequences of the Lighthill report, and place it in a context of critical and long-running arguments about the appropriate relationships of scientific research to working world problems and of government R&D funding to industrial strategy. An Edinburgh audience may well be interested in a specific Edinburgh aspect of the Lighthill controversy.