In the early 1950s, there were various names for the field of "thinking machines": cybernetics, automata theory, and complex information processing. The variety of names suggests the variety of conceptual orientations.
In 1955, John McCarthy, then a young Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Dartmouth College, decided to organize a group to clarify and develop ideas about thinking machines. He picked the name 'Artificial Intelligence' for the new field. He chose the name partly for its neutrality; avoiding a focus on narrow automata theory, and avoiding cybernetics which was heavily focused on analog feedback, as well as him potentially having to accept the assertive Norbert Wiener as guru or having to argue with him.
In early 1955, McCarthy approached the Rockefeller Foundation to request funding for a summer seminar at Dartmouth for about 10 participants. In June, he and Claude Shannon, a founder of information theory then at Bell Labs, met with Robert Morison, Director of Biological and Medical Research to discuss the idea and possible funding, though Morison was unsure whether money would be made available for such a visionary project.
On September 2, 1955, the project was formally proposed by McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester and Claude Shannon. The proposal is credited with introducing the term 'artificial intelligence'.
The Proposal states
||We propose that a 2-month, 10-man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer.
The proposal goes on to discuss computers, natural language processing, neural networks, theory of computation, abstraction and creativity (these areas within the field of artificial intelligence are considered still relevant to the work of the field).
On May 26, 1956, McCarthy notified Robert Morison of the planned 11 attendees:
For the full period:
- 1) Dr. Marvin Minsky
- 2) Dr. Julian Bigelow
- 3) Professor D.M. Mackay
- 4) Mr. Ray Solomonoff
- 5) Mr. John Holland
- 6) Mr. John McCarthy
For four weeks:
- 7) Dr. Claude Shannon
- 8) Mr. Nathanial Rochester
- 9) Mr. Oliver Selfridge
For the first two weeks:
- 10) Mr. Allen Newell
- 11) Professor Herbert Simon
He noted, "we will concentrate on a problem of devising a way of programming a calculator to form concepts and to form generalizations. This of course is subject to change when the group gets together."
According to Stottler Henke Associates, besides the proposal's authors, attendees at the conference included Ray Solomonoff, Oliver Selfridge, Trenchard More, Arthur Samuel, Herbert A. Simon, and Allen Newell.
The actual participants came at different times, mostly for much shorter times. Trenchard More replaced Rochester for three weeks and MacKay and Holland did not attend --- but the project was set to begin.
Around June 18, 1956, the earliest participants (perhaps only Ray Solomonoff, maybe with Tom Etter) arrived at the Dartmouth campus in Hanover, N.H., to join John McCarthy who already had an apartment there. Ray and Marvin stayed at Professors' apartments, but most would stay at the Hanover Inn.