AI researchers are - like the alchemists of old who sought to create gold from base metal - seeking to create thinking machines from infinitesimally small bits of silicon oxide.
The birth of AI was tied to the efforts of a variety of talented, intellectually self-confident, well-educated budding mathematicians, electrical engineers, psychologists, and even one political scientist. The various origins of the creators of AI and the enormous influence of their work explain some of the colourful aspect of their pronouncements, and the rollercoaster evolution of their field. As the hoopla over cold fusion illustrated in 1989, even the staid science of physics is not immune to exaggeration and false claims. Yet excesses of optimism seem to occur with particular frequency in AI.
First, there were plausible reasons in AI's early years for believing in its rapid progress, and these induced early researchers to display the excessive optimism that came to characterize the field. Early progresses in using computers for arithmetic were truly breathtaking. In a few years, technology went from cranky mechanical calculators to machines that could perform thousands of operations per second. It was thus not unreasonable to expect similar progress in using computers as manipulators of symbols to imitate human reasoning.
One misconception further enhanced this temptation. ...