History #17: Artificial Intelligence

Thomas Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, provides us with a framework for modeling the historic progression of scientific progress. Opposing the prevailing view of scientific progress as an accumulation of accepted facts and theories, Kuhn argued that scientific progress took a more episodic path, in which periods of normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science.

According to Kuhn, when enough anomalies have accrued against a current scientific consensus (some level of error is always inevitable), the field is thrown into a state of crisis, in which new ideas are tried, eventually leading to a paradigm shift. Investment of time and money pure in as the new paradigm proves successful in solving old and new problems. Eventually, this new paradigm may run into intractable problems of its own and the cycle repeats.

It is with this framework in mind that we will dive into the history of Artificial Intelligence. It’s a history littered with so-called “AI Summers” and “AI Winters”, where new ways of thinking spark rampant enthusiasm, followed by rampant pessimism when the lofty promises aren’t kept. It’s the boom and bust cycle that shows up again and again throughout human history.

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History #16: The French Revolution

With the American revolution, we broke away from a monarchy and it worked out pretty well. Contrast that with the French revolution, where they weren’t just breaking away from a monarchy – they were overthrowing one. In the process, France experienced violence, bloodshed, war, and the rise of Napoleon. Though this might not have been the best result for France, the ideas of the French Revolution would spread through Europe and end up changing the world.

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History #15: Protestant Reformation

In the early 16th century, there was one church in Western Europe – the Roman Catholic Church. Then came Martin Luther and the protestant reformation. Like the name suggests, Luther spoke out against the church and sought change. Protest and reform.

Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church split, then split again, and again. Today, there are uncountable Protestant denominations – Baptist, Anabaptist, Methodist, Calvinist, Anglican, Quaker, Lutheran, Apostolic Lutheran, Reformed Lutheran, Free Lutheran, etc. But this idea of protest and reform wasn’t limited to the spiritual, much of the modern world has been shaped by it. The civil rights movement was primarily led by protestant clergy, including Martin Luther King Jr who was named after Martin Luther. The American revolution was a protest for individual rights. The scientific revolution was a protest for new ways of understanding the world. At each step in humanity’s progress, old ideas need to be reevaluated and reformed.

If we buy into this idea of progress, then we owe a lot to one man in the 1500s who broke a church’s 1000 year monopoly on politics and spirituality.

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History #14: How WWI Started

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated while visiting a freshly annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. A month later, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. By August 4, 1914, a week later, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Austria, and Serbia were at war.

In about the span of a month, what started as a localized terrorist attack in Southeastern Europe, grew into a continent-wide war that still resonates today. Looking back, it’s easy to connect the dots, but for the diplomats living at the time, the outcomes of their actions were anything but clear.

We study World War I to remember this. To remember that we are always one month away from possible catastrophe – one misunderstanding away from World War III. We do what we can to reduce the likelihood of that outcome.

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History #13: The Deep Future

This is the last post in our big history series. It follows the structure of the course developed by historian David Christian. This post will explore the future of the universe.

Past posts can be found here: The Big Bang, Star Formation, Solar Systems, Life, Collective Learning, Agriculture, The Modern Revolution

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History #12: The Modern Revolution

This is the seventh post in an ongoing big history series. It follows the structure of the course developed by historian David Christian. This post will explore the modern revolution that we are currently living in.

Past posts can be found here: The Big Bang, Star Formation, Solar Systems, Life, Collective Learning, Agriculture

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History #11: Agriculture

This the sixth post in an ongoing big history series. It follows the structure of the course developed by historian David Christian. This post will explore the origins of agriculture and modern civilizations.

Past posts can be found here: The Big Bang, Star Formation, Solar Systems, Life, Collective Learning

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