In 1982, Japan launched its Fifth Generation Computer Systems project (FGCS), designed to develop intelligent software that would run on novel computer hardware. As the first national, large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) research and development (R&D) project to be free from military influence and corporate profit motives, the FGCS was open, international, and oriented around public goods. Although the FGCS did not plan any commercialized technologies, many American computer experts portrayed it as an economic threat to U.S. dominance in computing and the global economy—and policymakers around the developed world believed them and funded AI projects of their own. Later, however, the FGCS was remembered as a failure. Why? This article recasts the FGCS as an interstice in the shift from a state-funded regime of American science organization to the neoliberal privatized regime of R&D now ascendant around the world. By exploring how notions of economic competitiveness and national security shaped R&D, this article reveals AI to be a product of contingent choices by multiple actors—nation-states, government bureaucracies, corporations, and individuals—rather than the outcome of deterministic technological forces.

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