CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The last symposium in M.I.T.'s 150-day celebration of its 150th anniversary (who ever said that geeks don't like ritual?) is devoted to the question: "Whatever happened to AI?"

Of course, that is a particularly appropriate self-introspection for M.I.T. because a lot of artificial intelligence action occurred there during the past 50 years. The symposium began Tuesday night with M.I.T. neuroscientist Tomaso A. Poggio setting the tone by declaring that the problem of making an intelligent machine is still "wide open."

Okay, there has been some progress: things like Deep Blue, Watson, MobilEye, among others. But the consensus was that new "curiosity-driven basic research" is needed and that AI-related computer science  should be integrated with neuroscience and the cognitive sciences, with specialized concentrations in areas like vision, planning, language and social intelligence. "I believe that 50 years later it is the time to try again," Poggio said.


M.I.T. has brought together a cast of heavy-weights to take on these big questions. A few gems along the way:

Nobelist Sydney Brenner: "I think consciousness will never be solved but will disappear. Fifty years from now people will look back and say, 'What did they think they were talking about?'"

AI pioneer Marvin Minsky: "Why aren't there any robots that you can send in to fix the Japanese reactors? The answer is that there was a lot of progress in robotics in the 1960s and 70s and then something went wrong."

Noam Chomsky on the purported success of statistical natural language learning methods that function by "approximating unanalyed data," while ignoring the underlying structure of language: "That's a notion of success which is novel; I don't know of anything in the history of science [like this]."  

 Image credit: MIT