Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: April 24, 2023, 6:03 a.m. Humanist 36.543 - 'AI' versus 'artificial intelligence'

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 543.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2023-04-24 04:51:17+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: 'AI' versus 'artificial intelligence'

The study of acronyms, or in this case 'initialisms', would seem to be a
relatively minor field, though it has been growing since the
proliferation of acronyms with WWII. It is now recognised as a product
of word-formation (see e.g. Cannon 1989; López Rúa 2002). The important
points I take to be that (1) acronyms are words, or often quickly become
in usage indistinguishable from them, and (2) they take on meanings
different, perhaps only in connotation, from their originating phrases.
Dispute on this matter is welcome, of course, but let me get on with my
question: is 'AI' mean something different from 'artificial intelligence'?

I have anecdotal evidence that it does, namely a report from a colleague
at Stanford that students in computer science will sometimes say they
want 'to do AI' but show little interest in 'artificial intelligence'.
My colleague's conclusion was that the former means building smart
devices whereas the latter means the theoretical pursuit of human 
intelligence by artificial means. It seem likely that the popularity 
of the former has something to do with getting a high-paying job.

My sense is that 'AI' is often used without any questioning of what 
exactly it is, whereas 'artificial intelligence' has at least the potential 
of raising the question of what the conjunction of the two parts of the 
bionome suggests.

Comments and more evidence either way would be most welcome!

Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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