Over the past decade, A.I. has made some huge advances, both technically and in the public consciousness.

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2010 doesn’t seem all that long ago. Facebook was already a giant, time-consuming leviathan; smartphones and the iPad were a daily part of people’s lives; The Walking Dead was a big hit on televisions across America; and the most talked-about popular musical artists were the likes of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. So pretty much like life as we enter 2020, then? Perhaps in some ways.

One place that things most definitely have moved on in leaps and bounds, however, is on the artificial intelligence front. Over the past decade, A.I. has made some huge advances, both technically and in the public consciousness, that mark this out as one of the most important ten year stretches in the field’s history. What have been the biggest advances? Funny you should ask; I’ve just written a list on exactly that topic.

To most people, few things say “A.I. is here” quite like seeing an artificial intelligence defeat two champion Jeopardy! players on prime time television. That’s exactly what happened in 2011, when IBM’s Watson computer trounced Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, the two highest-earning American game show contestants of all time at the popular quiz show.

It’s easy to dismiss attention-grabbing public displays of machine intelligence as being more about hype-driven spectacles than serious, objective demonstrations. What IBM had developed was seriously impressive, though. Unlike a game such as chess, which features rigid rules and a limited board, Jeopardy! is less easily predictable. Questions can be about anything and often involve complex wordplay, such as puns.

“I had been in A.I. classes and knew that the kind of technology that could beat a human at Jeopardy! was still decades away,” Jennings told me when I was writing my book Thinking Machines. “Or at least I thought that it was.” At the end of the game, Jennings scribbled a sentence on his answer board and held it up for the cameras. It read: “I for one welcome our new robot overlords.”[…]

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