Monday, November 2, 2015

Artificial Intelligence in the Library . . .

     Libraries are wonderful places and library book sales are temptations impossible to resist -- and so, during a recent trip to Boston and exploration of the historic public library buildings on Boylston Street, I purchased a copy of Living Proof  (Florida International University Press, 1985) by Edmund Skellings (1932-2012).  Born in Boston and a poet laureate of Florida, Skellings was a pioneer in the application of computers to the arts and humanities.  The word "proof" in his title was enough to make me pick up the book and I have relished the opportunity to turn up memories of a long ago graduate course in AI while reading this poem:

Artificial Intelligence     by Edmund Skellings

Euclid rolled over in his bones
When Newell & Simon instructed
Their machine to look for new proof
For bisecting the ordinary triangle.   

No one at all expected
Except perhaps Newell & Simon
The machine to say something unheard of.

But it did.  And there
Was the glorious proof, never dreamed
By any mathematician, but
I ask you, Newell & Simon,

How can any imagine that somewhere
Inside a triangle turned
Over, one side as a hinge?
Or was there even a triangle?
Or even a line or a point?
Or even a sharpened formula?
Or even the thought of a shape?

Was there any joy in the crystals?
Any Aha or Eureka?
How sad, Misters Newell & Simon,
That no one awoke in a sweat,
Making inherent coherent,
So the living are left to explain
How an inanimate universe
Can contrive to make itself plain.

Allen Newell (1927–1992) and Herbert Simon (1916-2001) were awarded the Association for Computing Machinery's A.M. Turing Award for their basic contributions to artificial intelligence and the psychology of human cognition.

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