The Hudson Valley has served as a prominent setting of revolutions that have a global effect, time and time again - from the American and Industrial Revolutions, to the Hudson River School of artists, the cultural touchstone of Woodstock, and beyond. What many people don't realize though, is that the Hudson Valley is also a birthplace of something with such far-reaching implications that it will continue to grow in importance in the years and centuries to come - artificial intelligence. Yes, in a very important way, artificial intelligence got its start here.
While working at IBM's Research Laboratory in Poughkeepsie in 1955, computer programmer Arthur Samuel created a program that could learn - something that no one was able to do before. This came after his creation of the first checkers program, in 1952, also at IBM. He chose checkers as he felt the game was relatively simple, but has a depth of strategy. After hours of learning, the program could do so well that it had the ability to win when playing the game against the him, the person who created it. His program was originally made for IBM's first commercial computer, the 701, which in turn, became the first computer to display the potential for artificial intelligence. It was the first practical demonstration of artificial intelligence; created in the Town of Poughkeepsie, on a computer made here, too.
Arthur Samuel would retire from IBM in 1966, moving on to become a professor at Stanford University - an institution that would have a fundamental role in the rise of Silicon Valley, likely in part, thanks to him. He would spend the rest of his life working at Stanford, and is thought to have been the world's oldest active programmer, at age 88, when he passed away in 1990.
In the time since his checkers learning program was first created and demonstrated, artificial intelligence and machine learning has taken a larger and larger place in our lives. It set the stage for everything - from smart devices we use every day, to cutting edge medical technology to assist doctors in making the most-informed decisions in treatment of patients, self-driving vehicles and space exploration, to applications many of us haven't begun to imagine yet. Artificial intelligence research and development still continues to make breakthroughs in the Hudson Valley, currently with IBM's Watson, at their Research Laboratory in Yorktown Heights.
Next time a bit of technology seems to have learned from something you did... you know where it began, now.
The Hudson Valley
Locally-written articles focused on topics relevant to the Hudson Valley.