In its first half-century of existence, the Rockefeller Foundation was a powerful supporter of basic research in the sciences, medicine, and technology—driving many breakthroughs that increased economic prosperity and human happiness. One nascent field where the foundation invested was machine intelligence. Rockefeller’s 1955 grant to mathematics professor and cognitive scientist John McCarthy initiated a vast and valuable new area of knowledge.
The $7,500 award funded a summer research group at Dartmouth College to investigate the theory that machines could be programmed to mimic features of human intelligence. It was in his proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation that McCarthy first coined the term “artificial intelligence.” The conference ended up being attended by nearly all of the early leading lights of machine learning, and would come to be regarded as the birth event of artificial intelligence.
While the group, which also included scientists from Bell Labs, Harvard, and IBM, did not create intelligent computers in the span of one summer, they definitively established a new and consequential field of research, with leading scientists adopting McCarthy’s term and main concepts. McCarthy went on to found the MIT Artificial Intelligence group in 1959 and the Stanford AI Laboratory in 1962, and artificial intelligence was established as a fully fledged course of academic study.
- History, rockefeller100.org/exhibits/show/natural_sciences/computer-science
- 20-page proposal from John McCarthy to Rockefeller Foundation, rockefeller100.org/items/show/3807