In medicine, programs have been developed that analyze the disease symptoms, medical history, and laboratory test results of a patient, and then suggest a diagnosis to the physician. The diagnostic program is an example of so_called expert systems_programs designed to perform tasks in specialized areas as a human would. Expert systems take computers a step beyond straightforward programming, being based on a technique called rule_based inference, in which preestablished rule systems are used to process the data. Despite their sophistication, systems still do not approach the complexity of true intelligent thought.
The possibility of developing some such artifact has intrigued human beings since ancient times. With the growth of modern science, the search for AI has taken two major directions: psychological and physiological research into the nature of human thought, and the technological development of increasingly sophisticated computing systems. In the latter sense, the term AI has been applied to computer systems and programs capable of performing tasks more complex than straightforward programming, although still far from the realm of actual thought. The most important fields of research in this area are information processing, pattern recognition, game_playing computers, and applied fields such as medical diagnosis.