Carnegie Mellon University

The Birth of Computer Science

The Birth of Computer Science

Herbert Simon. Allen Newell. Alan Perlis. These are names associated with the foundations of computer science. All three, and their colleagues, were integral in developing the field and one of the first departments and schools for its study. These visionaries conceived of computer science as more than the theory and design of computers; they saw it, as Newell said, as "the study of all the phenomena arising from them."

Since its inception as a department in 1965, and its evolution into a school in 1988, computer science at Carnegie Mellon has followed a path devoted to excellence in both research and education. At the heart of the program is a dedication to producing highly-qualified research scientists and the ability to push experimental computer science ideas from theory to practical demonstration. Productive working relationships with industry have enriched our daily lives with practical applications and technology transfer.

In the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon researchers have pioneered developments in the areas of distributed systems, networking, software technology, robotics, and parallel processing.

Alan Perlis served as the first head of the graduate Department of Computer Science, which was founded in 1965. Perlis enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the field of computer science and was noted for his work designing programming languages and developing programming techniques. After his time at Carnegie Mellon, he became a professor at Yale University.

Among his many honors, Perlis served as the first president of the Association of Computing Machinery, and, in 1966, he became the first recipient of the organization's highest tribute, the A.M. Turing Award, for his research and scholarship in computer science.  

Allen Newell, considered one of the founders of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, engaged in pioneering work in these areas and in the development of computer software and hardware systems for complex information processing.

Newell's career spanned the entire computer era, beginning in the 1950s. He joined Carnegie Mellon as a professor in 1961 and played a pivotal role in creating the Department and the School of Computer Science and elevating them to world-class status.

Newell believed that computers could be much more than number-crunchers and that they were even capable of solving problems the way people do. He focused on problem solving and the cognitive architecture that supports intelligent action in humans and machines. In addition, he worked on areas as diverse as list processing, computer description languages, hypertext systems, and psychologically-based models of human-computer interaction.

Newell received the A.M. Turing Award (with Herbert Simon) in 1975.

Herbert Simon's research ranged from computer science to psychology, administration, economics, and philosophy. The thread of continuity through all his work was his interest in human decision-making and problem-solving processes, as well as the social implications of these processes. Along with Allen Newell, Simon was widely considered to be a founder of the field of artificial intelligence.

A member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty since 1949, Simon had important roles in the formation of several of its departments and schools, including the Tepper School of Business (then the Graduate School of Industrial Administration), the School of Computer Science, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Psychology Department, where he was instrumental in the development of its internationally renowned cognitive science group.

During his career, Simon advised governments, business, and industry all over the world. In 1975 he received the A.M. Turing Award (with Allen Newell), and in 1978, the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

"For more than 50 years, Herb had an enormous impact on the development of Carnegie Mellon into the major research university it is today," said President Jared L. Cohon. "His vision helped to shape some of the university's world-class schools and departments…. And his contributions extend well beyond the campus. Few, if any, scientists and scholars in the world have had as great an influence as has Herb across so many fields - economics, computer science, psychology and artificial intelligence among them."