Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Chapter 13: Artificial Intelligence

Herbert A. Simon

Herbert A. Simon was a Renaissance man of our generation. His home pages included sections on Computer Science, Psychology, and Philosophy, yet his PhD was in Political Science and his Nobel Prize was in Economics.

Dr. Simon was born in Milwaukee in 1916. His father was an engineer who became a patent attorney, and his mother was an accomplished pianist. Simon received his undergraduate degree in 1936 from the University of Chicago and worked for several years as an editor and administrator. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1943 in Political Science and began a 58-year academic career, the last 52 years of which were at Carnegie Mellon.

In 1955, Simon, Allen Newell, and J. C. Shaw (a programmer) created Logic Theorist, a program that could discover geometric theorem proofs. At about the same time, Simon was working with E. A. Feigenbaum on EPAM, a program that modeled their theory of human perception and memory. These programs and the subsequent series of papers on the simulation of human thinking, problem solving, and verbal learning marked the beginning of the field of artificial intelligence. In 1988, Simon and Newell received the Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery for their work in human problem solving. In 1995, Simon received the Research Excellence Award of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence.

Dr. Simon's interest in information processing and decision making led him to develop his economic theory of "bounded rationality," for which he received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economics. Classical economics had argued that people make rational choices to get the best item at the best price. Simon reasoned that the "best" choice was impossible because there are too many choices and too little time to analyze them. Instead, he argued, people choose the first option that is good enough to meet their needs. His Nobel Prize read "for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations."

Simon remained extraordinarily productive throughout his long career. His bibliography contains 173 entries before 1960, 168 in the 1960s, 154 in the 1970s, 207 in the 1980s, and 236 in the 1990s. Outside of his professional life, Simon enjoyed playing the piano, especially with friends who played violin, viola, and other instruments. He died in February 2001, having continued his research and interactions with students until just a few weeks before his death.

Additional Links

Carnegie Mellon hosts this web page that recognizes Herb Simon for his great contributions to the field of computer science.

Visit the H. A. Simon web site
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