January 15, 2022
This week in The History of AI at AIWS.net – the Alvey Programme was launched by the British government in 1983. It is a project developed in response to Japan’s own Fifth Generation Computer project. There was no specific focus or directive, but rather the program was to support research in knowledge engineering in the UK.
Originally, the UK was invited to Japan’s FGP, and they created a committee chaired by John Alvey, a technology director at British Telecom. In the end, they rejected Japan’s invitation and formed the Alvey Programme. John Alvey was not involved in this initiative itself though.
This project was created in response to Japan’s Fifth Generation Computer program, funded by the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1982. The goal of this program was to create computers with massively parallel computing and logic programming and to propel Japan to the top spots in advanced technology. This will then create a platform for future developments in AI. By the time of the program’s end, the opinion of it was mixed, divided between considering it a failure or ahead of its time.
Another program that rivalled the Alvey Programme was America’s Strategic Computing Initiative, founded in 1983 after the first AI winter in the 70s. The initiative supported projects that helped develop machine intelligence, from chip design to AI software. The DoD spent a total of 1 billion USD (not adjusted for inflation) before the program’s shutdown in 1993. Although the initiative failed to reach its overarching goals, specific targets were still met.
Although the results of the Alvey Programme and other computer and AI projects (Fifth Generation and SCI) in the 80s were mixed, they helped bring funding back to AI development after the first AI winter in the 70s. The History of AI marks the Alvey Programme as an important event in AI due to its marker in AI development in the 1980s.