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Herbert Simon and Artificial Intelligence

Lawrence Bush
June 14, 2017

Political scientist and artificial intelligence innovator Herbert Alexander Simon, winner of the Turing Award in 1975 and the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, was born in Milwaukee on this date in 1915 to a Jewish father and a mother of mixed Jewish and Christian background. Simon spent most of his academic and research career at Carnegie Mellon, with additional stints at the University of California at Berkeley and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1956, with his long-time colleague Allen Newell, Simon created the Logical Theorist computer program, which could discover proofs of geometric theorems. It marked the beginning of what would become known as artificial intelligence. Simon also conducted significant research in psychology, mathematics, statistics, public administration, philosophy of science, political science, learning theory, and sociology, much of which he synthesized into a theory of corporate decision-making in his book, Administrative Behavior (1947). Others of his thirteen books include Human Problem Solving (with Allen Newell, 1972), Reason in Human Affairs (1983), based on a series of lectures he gave at Stanford, and Models of My Life (1991), an autobiography. Simon posited that to become an expert on a topic required about ten years of experience and learning roughly 50,000 chunks of information. He died at 84 in 2001.

“Learning is any change in a system that produces a more or less permanent change in the capacity for adapting to its environment.” --Herbert A. Simon

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.