Carnegie Mellon University
Herb Simon

Intellectual Giant

Professor Herbert “Herb” A. Simon pioneered the foundations of artificial intelligence, redefined the psychology of human cognition, and transformed every field he explored.

Trained in political science and economics, Simon defined how a fundamental human skill, the ability to make decisions and solve problems, really works. With a formidable intellect, gleeful curiosity and insatiable love of learning, he built on this seismic shift in thinking during 65 years of research, leaving his imprint on political science, economics, psychology and computer science.

After joining the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1949 to establish the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (now, the Tepper School of Business) Simon developed a rigorous new business education curriculum. He became intrigued with the computer, which, he recognized, solved problems by using clear parameters, like humans. Simon teamed with the Rand Corporation’s Allen Newell to write programs that simulated how people reasoned when they solved logical problems. In December 1955, Simon and his colleague wrote a program that proved the theorems in a classic mathematics volume whose calculations had taken 10 years of longhand work. Simon and Newell had invented what the professor named their “thinking machine.” They had also invented artificial intelligence.

For 52 years, Simon was a vibrant, beloved visionary at Carnegie Mellon. He was named the Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, served as a trustee, and authored 27 books. Besides developing GSIA, he was instrumental in the creation or expansion of the Department of Psychology, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, the Heinz College of Information Sciences and Public Policy, School of Computer Science and the Department of Physics.

He appreciated the scientific accolades he received, including the A.M. Turing Award, National Medal of Science, Von Neumann Theory Prize and Nobel Prize in Economics, but he cherished his role as a teacher. In an interview after receiving the Nobel Prize, Simon playfully said, “I have to go teach. After all, that’s what they pay me for.”

After Simon’s death in 2001, two former students-turned-faculty-colleagues eulogized their mentor as a man of “intellect and integrity” driven by “ideas and the pursuit of knowledge.” Among Carnegie Mellon’s founders, Herbert Simon is a giant.