November 6, 2023
This week in The History of AI at AIWS.net – The market for specialised AI hardware collapsed in 1987
This week in The History of AI at AIWS.net – the sudden collapse of the market for specialised AI hardware in 1987. This is due to the fact that computers from Apple and IBM became more powerful than Lisp machines and other expert systems. In the 80s, specialised AI hardware such as Lisp machines became very popular due to its effectiveness in the corporate world. However they were expensive to maintain. By the end of the decade, computers by Apple and IBM had catched up with expert systems, per Moore’s Law, and also at a far cheaper price. Because now consumers no longer require the more expensive expert systems, there was a collapse for the market of such things.
This collapse of the market led to what is dubbed the Second AI Winter. The collapse coincided with the end of the 5th Generation Computer project of Japan and the Strategic Computing Initiative in the USA. The expensive nature of expert systems and the lack of demand led to slowdowns in development of that field. Companies that run Lisp went bankrupt or moved away from the field entirely. Thus, the winter spelled the end for expert systems as a major player in AI and computers.
Expert systems are computer systems that can emulate man’s decision-making abilities. They are designed to solve problems through reasoning and they can perform at the level of human experts. The first expert system was SAINT, developed by Marvin Minsky and James Robert Slagle. Lisp machines are designed to be able to run expert systems. Lisp machine runs the Lisp programming language, and in a way, it was one of the first commercial and personal workstation computer.
The fall of expert systems highlight lessons that are valuable for the History of AI and the current development of AI as well. It shows the failure to adapt by many in the AI field. The end of expert system in popular usage and the beginnings of the Second AI winter are also important milestones in the development of Artificial Intelligence. Thus, the HAI initiative consider this event an important marker in the history of AI.