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The Quest for Artificial Intelligence Paperback – October 30, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0521122931 ISBN-10: 0521122937 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 578 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521122937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521122931
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,052,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"With the investigatory skill of a historian for the earliest work, personal recollections and reflections of early work, and unprecedented access to current researchers; and with the wit of a skilled author and teacher and the insight of a founding father, Nils Nilsson is uniquely qualified to present this lucid, comprehensive, entertaining and balanced history of AI."
Peter Norvig, Director of Research, Google Inc.

"Nils reminds us of the grand scope of the AI enterprise and provides an excellent vantage point from which to assess the remarkable progress that has occurred. At the same time, the book provides unique and detailed historical insight into how things really happened. My only complaint is that Nils has, as always, understated his own important role in the story."
Stuart Russell, University of California, Berkeley

"Nilsson is one of the world's earliest AI researchers and practitioners, and here he presents a vivid history of Artificial Intelligence - its early breakthroughs, intermediate setbacks, current successes, and forthcoming triumphs."
Takeo Kanade, U.A. and Helen Whitaker University Professor, Carnegie Mellon University

"Nils Nilsson has written the definitive intellectual history of Artificial Intelligence research; something that he himself has been a key player in for over forty of its 53 years. In this book he not only explains all of the major ideas and fashions in AI, but he traces how the ideas arose, where they arose and why. This well mannered book explains AI. All of it."
Rodney Brooks, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

"A wonderfully comprehensive and entertaining look at how artificial intelligence was invented and developed."
Alan Kay, President of Viewpoints Research Institute

"Nils's book is a tour de force that serves as a valuable hiker's guide through the twists and turns of the historical trails of the first several decades of the quest for artificial intelligence."
Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Research and President of the AAAI

"Nilsson's new book is a fascinating chronology of artificial intelligence, written by one of the doyens of the field. It should appeal to a broad audience with its sweeping coverage of topics ranging from game playing to computer vision and natural language processing."
Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Yahoo! Labs

"A balanced look at what AI has been able to do during its first 50 years of existence. His personal recollections and the rationale behind many decisions, as retold by an insider, make this book a unique contribution, interesting both for the informed and for the general reader. Both kinds of readers can learn a lot from Nilsson's book about the evolution of this now-mature research field. The book is written in a friendly conversational style, without any unnecessary mathematical formalisms, and is richly illustrated with many diagrams that depict representative AI systems and photographs of the many innovators that led to their development."
Fernando Berzal,

"Nilsson crafts a highly readable and personal account of the theory and practitioners that brought the world to present-day AI... the text [is] accessible and the descriptions personal."
T. Armstrong, Wheaton College for Choice Magazine

Book Description

This book is the definitive history of the field of artificial intelligence (AI), tracing its history from the dreams of early pioneers to the more successful work of today's AI engineers. The book includes many diagrams and easy-to-understand descriptions of AI programs that will help the casual reader gain an understanding of how these and other AI systems actually work.

Customer Reviews

There is a great deal of good material here.
So if you are one of those serious readers who is trying to get some idea of what the intelligent information processing is about, you will be quite disappointed.
Lev Goldfarb
Nils J. Nilsson's comprehensive account of the evolution of AI covers the field from its inception to recent times.
Peter E. Hart

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter E. Hart on January 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Nils J. Nilsson's book begins with the story of how artificial intelligence originated in 1956 at a Dartmouth summer project that had the goal of "making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving." It relates how in the fifty-plus years that followed, AI has been the subject of overly-optimistic predictions, academic arguments that its goals are unachievable, funding excesses, and funding droughts. But the underlying reality is that AI has contributed key components to the technology foundations that shaped the modern world, and indeed has transformed our view of machines and of our relation to them.

The algorithms that compute your driving directions, and also compute the paths of characters in video games? They rely on results from AI research on mobile, intelligent robots. Those surprisingly high-quality voice response systems we encounter when we phone a customer-service number? They use results from AI research in speech recognition. The recommender systems ("You might also like") used by many web vendors? They use machine learning methods whose history is described by Nilsson. And AI technology is embedded in a host of less-apparent applications ranging from medical devices to automated securities trading systems.

Nils J. Nilsson's comprehensive account of the evolution of AI covers the field from its inception to recent times. All the major sub-fields of AI receive attention--from game playing to automatic problem solving, from computer vision to speech and language understanding, from expert systems to machine learning and probabilistic reasoning--all these and more are covered.

Nilsson enriches his account by viewing major developments through a multi-faceted prism.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Linda Liebes on August 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely literate, well written history of the first fifty years of AI by someone who fortuitously came in on the ground floor of this field. Nilsson's perspective is unique and invaluable for anyone interested in broadening their horizons, and in appreciating how many talented and driven individuals have contributed to AI's successes.

As a lay reader, I skipped the notes and many of the technical details and diagrams. I enjoyed the many interesting references scattered through the text. Just to give a flavor of these, in the first chapter alone there are references to Homer's "Iliad", Ovid's "Metamorphosis", The Talmud, opera (Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman"), and theater, Capek's "R.U.R." I won't mention more of them here but leave them for you to discover, choice morsels all. Although this is a scholarly work, it's accessible to anyone who is interested in what AI is all about.
AI has already become an integral part of our lives. It's used for computing driving directions, interactive computer games, aircraft control, credit card fraud detection, vending machine currency recognition, robot control, speech recognition, and face identification, to name just some of the more prominent examples.

I came away marveling at how far this field has come in 50 years and convinced of the need for more basic research. Most of the important inventions were due to basic research. At the time, the results, to an untrained eye, looked stunningly simple. People thought, "What good is that?" We're now reaping the harvest of those years of early work, and one hopes that, along with applications, basic research in the field will continue.

This book is a significant contribution to the history of science.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steve on June 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a great deal of good material here. I wonder if the general problem of producing a history of AI would not have been better decomposed into a set of mini-histories each concerned with a particular topic and occupying a single chapter. For example, NLP, machine vision, robotics, knowledge representation, vagaries of public/private financing, major commercial deployments, etc. each could have been addressed in a single chapter. In this book, individual topics pop up again and again in interleaved fashion as the author's single timeline unfolds. This may be a bit disconcerting for readers not already well versed in the field. Other advantages of a modular approach to the history of AI rather than a simple sequential approach are ease of updating the text for future editions and the ability of subject matter experts to quickly find and provide constructive feedback in their areas of expertise.

A minor irritation was the use of URLs in body text rather than confining them to end notes. Most authors would like their books to be timeless; the use of highly fragile URLs in body text seems to contradict this goal.

I suspect that this is the best history of AI we have so far. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the field.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Reuben on January 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading Russell & Norvig's amazing tome, this is a great high level refresher of the concepts covered there.
For an aspiring software engineer interested in developing algorithms that simulate the steps of a thought process, this book helps one understand:
A) what is currently possible, what is not possible & what is nearly possible :) ;
B) what approaches have hit dead ends & what alternative approaches superseded them;
C) what subcategories of AI research exist, & how they can be integrated
D) what areas of AI research are being actively investigated today and show promise of further advances.
E) how we stand upon the shoulders of giants [some amazing programmatic investigations took place before most script kiddies and raving transhumanists were even conceived].

In a way this last point is slightly melancholic - since the failure of the Japanese 5th Generation Computer Systems project (FGCS) in the 1980s, programming largely consists of re-inventing information systems ad nauseum. And yet cognitive science hints that the human brain is Turing Equivalent - unfortunately, the demand for immediate ROI stymies the effort to automate more tasks. This book is a potent reminder that programmers should strive to understand how to code outside this box.

A recommended read.
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More About the Author

Nils J. Nilsson, Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University, received his PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford in 1958. He spent twenty-three years at the Artificial Intelligence Center of SRI International working on statistical and neural-network approaches to pattern recognition, co-inventing the A* heuristic search algorithm and the STRIPS automatic planning system, directing work on the integrated mobile robot, SHAKEY, and collaborating in the development of the PROSPECTOR expert system. He has published five textbooks on artificial intelligence.

Professor Nilsson returned to Stanford in 1985 as the Chairman of the Department of Computer Science, a position he held until August 1990. Besides teaching courses on artificial intelligence and on machine learning, he has conducted research on flexible robots that are able to react to dynamic worlds, plan courses of action, and learn from experience. Professor Nilsson served on the editorial boards of the journal Artificial Intelligence and of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research. He was an Area Editor for the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a past-president and Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a co-founder of Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc.

Professor Nilsson is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. He is a recipient of the IEEE "Neural-Network Pioneer" award, the IJCAI "Research Excellence" award, and the AAAI "Distinguished Service" award.

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