Newell, Allen

Newell at CHI 1985.
Allen Newell at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in San Francisco, CA on April 14, 1985.

Allen Newell (1927 – 1992) was a computer scientist and renowned pioneer of artificial intelligence. In 1975, Newell and his longtime collaborator, Herbert A. Simon, won the A.M. Turing Award, the highest honor in computer science, for their “contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, and list processing.”

Newell’s ultimate goal was to understand how humans think and to build systems that would enable humans to solve concrete, real-world problems. While working with the RAND Corporation in 1952, Newell began discussing how computers could be used to examine human problem-solving techniques with Simon, a RAND consultant on organizational analysis. In 1956, Newell and Simon, in collaboration with RAND colleague Clifford Shaw, produced one of the first artificial programs, Logic Theorist.

Newell at CHI 1985.
Newell talks with Don Norman (left) at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in San Francisco, CA on April 14, 1985.

Newell and Simon also invented the Information Processing Language (IPL) for the Logic Theorist and other artificial intelligence programs. The partners unveiled their next project, the General Problem Solver (GPS), in 1957. This program would apply modifiable “rules of thumb” to a given problem, then perform a “means-ends” analysis after each step to determine if it was closer to achieving the desired solution.

After leaving RAND in 1961, Newell joined the faculty at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and contributed to the creation of one of the first computer science departments in the United States. Newell continued to dedicate his research to understanding human cognition and building systems to solve problems. He became the founding president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (1979 – 1980) and was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science just before he died of cancer in 1992.

One of the great thinkers about people and machines.  He was a hero with whom I planned to do my graduate studies in 1968, but the Viet-Nam War interfered with that. My draft board would not approve a deferment for me to accept a fellowship to study with Newell, so I spent three years teaching data processing at SUNY-Farmingdale (a two-year community college), which is how I came to do my graduate work at SUNY-Stony Brook.  I followed Newell’s work closely, and occasionally met him at conferences.  One of my great moments was when in 1985 in his CHI Conference keynote, Newell favorably mentioned my 1980 book on Software Psychology.  His deep thinking about human psychology were a strong inspiration during my development. – Ben Shneiderman


Education:

  • Ph.D., Carnegie Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Industrial Administration (1957)
  • B.S. in Physics, Stanford University (1949)

Affiliations:

  • Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, Carnegie Mellon (1961 – 1992)
  • RAND Corporation (1950 – 1961)
  • Graduate Student, Carnegie-Mellon University (1955 – 1957)
  • United States Navy (1943 – 1945)

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