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AI Evolution: Its Past & Future

AI has undergone a remarkable evolution since its inception. Let's take a look at its journey, from its earliest foundations to tomorrow's innovations.

By Kevin Hutson
A divided image with an old-fashioned, bulky computer on the left and a sleek, modern AI interface with a holographic display on the right.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has undergone a remarkable evolution since its inception — transitioning from a theoretical concept to a ubiquitous force that is revolutionizing how we work, communicate, and perceive the world around us.

As we navigate the dynamic AI landscape, understanding past accomplishments and future potential is essential for harnessing its power responsibly and shaping a future where AI serves as a force for positive change.

TIP: For maximum understanding of many concepts in this article, we recommend that you read our AI Fundamentals article.

How We Got To This Moment in AI

The rich and complex history of AI is not punctuated by single 'eureka' moments; rather, it’s interlaced with numerous technological advancements and cultural shifts spanning across nearly a century.

1930's: The Birth of AI

The conception of AI dates back to the mid-20th century when the theoretical groundwork was laid out by forward-thinking minds who envisioned machines that could simulate human intelligence — such as Alan Turing, the computer scientist who, in 1936, created the Enigma encryption machine that helped shorten World War II.

This initial wave, known for symbolic reasoning (i.e., the process of using symbols and rules to manipulate and derive new knowledge or conclusions), centered around creating AI that could manipulate symbols and perform logical operations, akin to a human reasoning.

1980’s: The Rise of Machine Learning

While the symbolic AI approach showed early promise, it proved to be limited when it came to complex real-world applications. The value delivered by AI systems had fallen short of expectations, at least in the public eye.

This was followed by a time of minimal AI advancements, which led the mid 1930’s to the 1980’s to become referred to as the 'AI winter.'

However, this disappointment eventually prompted a focus on machine learning in the 1980s — inspiring many key developments, such as:

  • A growing popularity of expert systems & reinforcement learning
  • The emergence of Inductive Logic Programming (ILP) (i.e., inducing general logic from examples, with the goal of generalizing from specific instances to general concepts)
  • Renewed interest in neural networks (which had originally been introduced in the 1950s)

These trends birthed a crucial pivot in the trajectory of AI, as now AI systems could learn and evolve without being explicitly programmed for each task.

1990’s & Early 2000’s: The Data Revolution

The advent and popularization of ‘Big Data’ (i.e., data warehousing and database management) combined with the growth of the internet in the 1990’s and early 2000’s had two major impacts:

  • Increased computing power, allowing for the development of larger & more advanced AI systems
  • More available data, which provided a greater amount of material for the development & enhancement of AI systems

Thus, this massive increase in data availability and computational power fueled the rise of more sophisticated machine learning algorithms.

2015 to Now: A Truly Transformative Decade

The adoption of AI has been increasing rapidly. Between 2017 and 2022, the number of companies integrating AI into their operations more than doubled, and 2021 marked a historic peak in AI funding — with reports indicating global AI investments ranging from $72 and $111.4 billion.

This heightened interest in AI technologies was undoubtedly spurred by several significant advancements made in the past decade, many of which were fueled by the increasing prevalence of the open-source movement.

The Open-Source Movement

Since its inception in the 1980’s, the open-source movement has gained increasing momentum over the last five decades.

By facilitating the free exchange of ideas, algorithms, and datasets, the movement has made cutting-edge technologies accessible to not just large corporations and research institutions but to independent developers and smaller entities as well.

Still holding strong today, this democratization of AI and has drastically accelerated the progress of AI development and pushed the boundaries of what AI can achieve.

Hardware Advancements

Building upon the shift from central processing units (CPUs) to graphics processing units (GPUs) in the 1990s, the introduction of tensor processing units (TPUs) in 2015 launched a drastic acceleration of AI model sophistication.

Together, these advancements enabled complex operations and algorithmic training that were once thought to be unfeasible.


In 2017, a group of Google researchers introduced the concept of transformers in a landmark paper titled "Attention is All You Need".

This breakthrough not only propelled AI’s ability to understand and interact with natural language but paved the way for more complex applications, including real-time translation, content creation, and contextual understanding.

Foundation Models

Introduced in 2018, foundation models have significantly minimized the resources and costs needed to develop AI systems — sparking unprecedented access to AI and expanding its usage across a variety of businesses, domains, and more.

Foundation models are so monumental to widespread AI adoption that, without them, we maybe wouldn’t even be writing this article.

Generative AI's "iPhone Moment"

The debut of OpenAI’s GPT-3 in 2020 is akin to the iPhone's revelatory launch — heralding a new era of widespread public awareness and adoption.

With this development, the mainstream public could now experience the true potential of AI in a way they never had before.

The AI of Tomorrow

Despite the remarkable progress made, AI still faces challenges. Nevertheless, AI holds immense promise in shaping a future that merges human ingenuity with artificial intelligence.

Important Considerations

The rise of AI raises questions about consciousness, ethics, and the future status of AI in society — including the need for ethical considerations and responsible deployment.

Privacy & Security

AI's progress raises profound concerns about privacy and security because while it can be used to protect sensitive information and prevent cybersecurity threats, AI can also be used maliciously.

It’s imperative that we develop AI systems that can operate reliably in environments that safeguard user data and prevent malevolent use.

Federated learning, which allows models to be trained on data without sharing the data itself, is a promising approach in AI research to unlock the potential of distributed data sources while addressing privacy and data sharing challenges.

Ethics & Regulation

As AI systems become more complex and deeply integrated into critical infrastructure, the need for standardized regulations that balance innovation with safety and ethics is paramount.

Governments and organizations across the globe are working to develop policies that balance AI’s benefits with its potential risks, for example:

  • The European Union’s AI Act aims to increase compliance obligations based on AI applications’ risk level
  • The United States is pushing for national AI standards but has also adopted some AI-specific rules at the state level
  • Some Latin American countries’ are providing general frameworks for AI development while others are regulating specific AI applications
  • The United Kingdom enacted a law that authorizes the government to intervene in acquisitions of companies developing AI that could harm national security
  • China, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, United Arab Emirates, & Uzbekistan have enacted laws governing specific applications of AI — such as in payment systems, employment, self-driving vehicles, illegal online content, and speech-signal processing
  • Greece, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, & Belgium adopted laws around AI-based decision-making by public bodies — imposing measures to ensure transparency and prevent bias, often requiring impact assessments

Additionally, explainability AI (XAI) techniques aim to make AI systems more understandable by humans, enabling users to trust and effectively interact with AI models — particularly in fields like finance, healthcare, and law.

Environmental Sustainability

As AI adoption grows, so does its impact on the environment, particularly in terms of energy consumption and electronic waste. According to AI Multiple Research, AI can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 4% and contribute $5.2 trillion to the economy by 2030.

However, AI's energy consumption poses challenges — fueling an increasing focus on developing:

  • More energy-efficient AI systems and hardware, including reducing the computational resources required for training & deploying AI models. Advancements in neural networks, specifically cortical neural networks, and similar concepts such as neuromorphic computing, are expected to lead to more efficient and cost-effective AI deployments. This is because cortical neural networks and neuromorphic computing mimic the human brain's structure and processing, leading to AI systems that can learn and operate more efficiently.
  • AI that addresses environmental challenges, such as climate change, conservation, & sustainable resource management. Environmentally focused AI applications range from data analysis for sustainability to fighting air pollution and improving biodiversity monitoring. Implementing AI in agriculture, disaster preparedness, and production processes can also enhance sustainability and efficiency.

Potential Societal Shifts

Societal adjustments to the greater adoption of AI will likely include rethinking education, income distribution, and the nature of work in the age of AI — challenging communities to evolve and adapt while presenting both hurdles and opportunities for growth and restructuring.

Additional ways in which we may see cultural shifts include:

Digital Interaction

The fields of robotics, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and Web3 are becoming increasingly intertwined with the evolution of AI, marking a new era that’s redefining human interaction, entertainment, work, and ownership in the digital age — and fundamentally altering our engagement with the digital and physical realms.

Geopolitical Structure

The geopolitical implications of the global AI race have the potential to be significant — with the possibility of redefining alliances, altering power dynamics, and influencing global governance structures.

Job Market

While AI is expected to create new jobs, it will likely lead to the displacement of certain roles and tasks. This could lead to a restructuring of the job market, likely causing disruption and anxiety among workers.

Governments, companies, and educational institutions will need to develop reskilling and upskilling programs to help workers adapt to the changing job market.

Human-AI Teamwork

Rather than relegating humans to the sidelines, AI's power lies in its symbiotic potential with human capabilities, creating human-AI teams that outperform unaided humans or AI and fostering a new wave of human creativity and innovation.

Current & Anticipated Progress

The development and integration of AI in various fields like education, healthcare, finance, and more have the potential to radically transform how we live and work — for the better.


AI is transforming the education sector by providing personalized learning experiences and automating administrative tasks, enhancing both learning outcomes and productivity.


AI-powered sensors, drones, and data analysis can help farmers optimize agricultural processes, monitor crop growth, detect pests, and manage irrigation systems more efficiently — improving both sustainability and productivity.


AI has shown promise in areas like drug discovery, medical image analysis, and personalized treatment recommendations.

It’s also enhancing patient-provider interactions and reducing administrative burden on medical staff — improving outcomes for both patients and providers.


The finance industry is widely adopting AI for tasks like fraud detection, algorithmic trading, credit underwriting, risk management, and personalized investment recommendations.

Global Social Good

Amidst the competitive fervor, collaborative AI development represents a pragmatic approach that fosters shared knowledge and benefits, leveraging the collective intelligence of the global research community to address common challenges and opportunities.

For example, the Gates Foundation granted roughly 50 research groups $100,000 each to build AI applications that help crucial social and healthcare causes in their communities.

Leveraging AI to assist researchers in data analysis and literature discovery in order to address global challenges like climate change, healthcare, and social justice is a growing area of research and development.

AI Technology Advancements

The diverse and rapidly evolving nature of AI research focuses on enhancing the capabilities of AI systems, addressing societal challenges, and ensuring the responsible development and deployment of the technology.

Expanded Capabilities

Undoubtedly, generative AI models like GPT-4 are expected to continue advancing, enabling more sophisticated multimodal content generation and interaction capabilities. Key research areas that could influence this include:

  • Deep Learning Architectures: Continual improvements in deep learning architectures such as convolutional neural networks (CNNs), recurrent neural networks (RNNs), and transformer models are expected. Advancements in model architectures will lead to better performance in tasks like image recognition, natural language understanding, and speech processing (ie. text-to-speech).
  • Generative AI Models: Generative models, including Variational Autoencoders (VAEs) and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), are likely to see substantial progress. These models enable the generation of realistic images, text, and other forms of data, with applications in creative design, content generation, and data augmentation.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): Advances in NLP, driven by transformer-based models like BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) and GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), are likely to continue. These models enable tasks such as language translation, sentiment analysis, and question-answering, with applications in virtual assistants, customer support, and content understanding.

Heightened Complexity

Real-world datasets are often complex and high-dimensional, containing subtle patterns and dependencies that simpler models may struggle to capture. Complex AI models can better handle this complexity, leading to more accurate predictions and insights.

Research areas that are likely to address this include:

  • Quantum Machine Learning: Quantum Machine Learning (QML), an emerging field that explores the integration of quantum computing principles and machine learning, has the potential to enable the creation of more complex AI models.
  • Reinforcement Learning: Reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms are anticipated to advance significantly. Deep RL techniques (combining deep learning with RL) hold promise for solving complex control problems in robotics, autonomous systems, and gaming.

Enhanced Reasoning

AI systems are expected to become more capable of complex reasoning, decision-making, and autonomous behavior — potentially leading to the emergence of artificial general intelligence (AGI).

The exploration of unsupervised learning methods continues to be a vibrant area of research in order to drive toward more robust, efficient, and versatile AI systems. Unsupervised learning techniques, such as clustering and dimensionality reduction, unlock the potential for AI systems to discover hidden structures within data, enabling more sophisticated and nuanced interpretations.

» Check Out: AI Agents

Minimized Resource Constraints

Edge computing, combined with AI algorithms optimized for resource-constrained environments, is expected to gain traction.

Edge AI enables processing and inference of data directly on IoT devices, reducing latency, enhancing privacy, and enabling real-time decision-making in applications like smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and industrial automation.

Further Reading: Discover the power of AI automation and also see the top AI tools for automation that will help enhance your workflow to streamline your operations and sharpen your competitive edge.