Jeff Schneider steps out of the bright sunshine into the dim light of the coffee shop, glancing up at the familiar, primary-colored Google logo atop the building next door. The Carnegie Mellon robotics professor spots his longtime friend and colleague, Andrew Moore, and takes a seat. Moore, co-founder and director of that burgeoning Google office, had asked Schneider to help him mull over a very big decision on this spring day in 2014. Prior to joining Google, Moore had also been a CMU robotics professor, and he’d recently been asked to return to campus—this time as dean of the School of Computer Science. The two set to pondering Moore’s list of pros and cons.
In eight years, Moore has built this Google branch from just two people into a successful office of hundreds, bursting at the seams. He’s been having a “wonderful” time, proud to be making his mark at such an influential company, and so he hadn’t considered leaving. This offer, though, has him seriously thinking. As he says, there are few “really important hotspots for the future of technology”—one is Google, one Carnegie Mellon. Moore can’t help but consider that his tie with the school dates to the 1990s. His less-obvious connection, though, stretches back to the days of the space race and the push-button phone.
President Lyndon Johnson sat in the White House as movie audiences thrilled to the “Sound of Music.” Young men yearned for the hot new Ford Mustang, and a Soviet cosmonaut took man’s first daring steps outside the space capsule. As 1965 began and the Beatles planned what would be their last live U.K. tour, a little boy was born to Michael and Sylvia Moore in London, England. Newborn Andrew was peacefully unaware of other, quieter changes occurring in the world he’d just entered and of another imminent birth. He couldn’t yet know how those significant events would one day shape his life.
The age of computing was taking shape, and on its cutting edge stood three visionaries at the Carnegie Institute of Technology—Herbert Simon, Allen Newell, and Alan Perlis. In June of that year, the three men would officially launch a new and world-changing discipline on campus—the department of computer science, one of the first in the United States.
Social scientist Herbert Simon had come to Carnegie Tech in 1949 to help establish the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA). As the electronic computer emerged in the 1950s, physicist/mathematician Allen Newell arrived. Together, he and Simon pioneered the field of artificial intelligence in 1956, the first version simulated by Simon’s wife and kids with handwritten 3x5 cards. That same year, the university’s first computer, an IBM 650, was delivered to the basement of GSIA. Simon recruited chemist/mathematician Alan Perlis to head the university’s new Computation Center, and in 1958, Perlis began offering the first freshman-level computer-programming course in the nation. Word spread quickly on campus.
“I was sitting in the fraternity house and someone came in and said, ‘I’m taking this night class from this crazy bald-headed guy,’” recalls James Morris, CMU professor of computer science and 1963 alumnus. “I said, ‘I’m going to do this—this is really cool.’ Newell and Simon were conducting seminars, and anybody could attend. There was a great enthusiasm because Newell, Simon, and Perlis were just amazing people. They attracted hundreds of us.”
Young men gathered in that basement, tediously punching out cards on keypunch machines, with Simon right alongside them. In the era of Einstein and Sputnik, bright young people flocked in droves to physics. But this uncharted territory of computing, though not much more than programming, was tantalizing. “When I started, it was like building log cabins—really fun. It was like the wild frontier,” says Morris.
In 1961, the Computation Center and its newest machine, a Bendix G-20, were elevated from the basement—literally—to the top floor of just-completed Scaife Hall. Four years later, as tiny Andrew Moore was learning to crawl, Simon, Newell, and Perlis elevated the discipline itself, forming the university’s new computer science department (CSD). Department head Perlis had just a handful of faculty. The new doctoral program (no master’s degrees or undergraduates) attracted its first students from an interdisciplinary computing degree begun a few years earlier that combined mathematics, psychology, business, and electrical engineering. “In later years, Simon joked that we were giving PhDs in computer science before the university even knew about it,” Morris smiles.
In 1967, students of the brand-new Carnegie Mellon University (Carnegie Tech had merged with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research) were treated to an unusual sight by an unusual department: CSD’s new computer was delivered to Scaife Hall—lowered by crane through a hole in the roof.
As the new discipline took root through the 1970s, young Andrew Moore was growing up in Bournemouth, a seaside town where his parents—both teachers—had taken positions. It was the type of densely populated British town where bikes outnumbered cars and neighbors were welcome. Disco was sweeping the United States and England during the “Me decade,” energy was in crisis, and Margaret Thatcher would become prime minister. Moore, while talented in math, was more smitten by his drama classes and the lure of the footlights. He and his friends loved taping and splicing homemade audio productions. They also loved American television and the excitement of the space program. “I really wished I was an American,” Moore admits. “It was so cool.”
In this decade, the first email was sent over the Internet’s precursor, the Arpanet; Xerox researchers (Jim Morris among them) created the Alto, the first commercial computer with graphical user interface; and Apple debuted the Macintosh during Super Bowl XVIII. CSD found a new home when construction finished on Science Hall (now Wean) and Professor Raj Reddy, who had joined the faculty in 1969, founded the Robotics Institute, an entity that would become the world’s largest robotics research and education organization, with headquarters dubbed the “Raj Mahal.”
As the 1980s began, Moore turned 15 in a decade that would usher in MTV, the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the IBM PC, compact discs, Microsoft Windows and Pac-Man’s voracious appetite. Moore, sitting at a friend’s home in front of a brand new PC, watched with wonder as his buddy typed, transfixed by this new device. He’d thought machines like these were the sole purview of NASA scientists, not for ordinary kids. It didn’t take long, though, before the teens were poring over manuals and customizing their own Space Invaders. The following year, Moore got his own machine and began programming his own games, early dreams of acting all but forgotten.
In 1982, while CMU researcher Scott Fahlman made the whole world smile sideways :-) with the first emoticon, Jim Morris returned to head the Andrew Project, with the sweeping goal of developing a campus-wide communications network. He found a school “full of energy and confidence”: CSD students and faculty working diligently in the large Wean Hall terminal room. Although no longer in a basement, they were still together.
“No one had terminals in their office—unless you were a really big cheese—and there was a real sense of community,” says Morris wistfully. “When you were in that room with 99 other computer hackers, you could just shout out any question you had and get an answer. We loved it.” As the Andrew Project progressed, CMU became what computer scientists recognized as the most-wired campus in the world. And as everybody retreated to offices and private terminals, Morris and the others found the transition bittersweet.
Meanwhile, CMU computer science faculty, students, and alumni continued to produce game-changing technologies.
On campus, then-professor Richard Rashid and his team were hard at work developing the Mach kernel. It would become the heart of Apple’s operating system and its modern devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook. Alumnus Charles Geschke (S’73) was busy co-founding Adobe Systems. The graphics and printing software firm would help to ignite the desktop publishing revolution and become a multinational corporation.
In 1983, an 18-year-old Andrew Moore left the sunny English seaside and headed off to Cambridge to study math and computer science. While he was tackling proofs and algorithms, the CSD grew to encompass 30 faculty members and 100 graduate students. The Software Engineering Institute and Center for Machine Translation were founded and Red Whittaker’s (E’75,’79) groundbreaking robots zoomed out to clean up Three Mile Island’s nuclear mess.
The incredible potential of robots also intrigued Moore, particularly the novel idea of using machine learning to help them navigate—independently. He returned to Cambridge in 1987 to explore these frontiers and earn his PhD.
The CSD, meanwhile, was navigating its own independence in a whole new way. In January 1989, the university formally announced that the department, led by A. Nico Habermann, would become the seventh school at CMU. This autonomy would allow the SCS to defy boundaries and move freely in unprecedented new directions.
As 1990 began, Moore celebrated his 25th birthday. The upcoming decade would see the creation of the World Wide Web, followed by the browser, Amazon, and Google. As Moore had matured, so had computer science at CMU. Just 25 years before, a fledgling campus discipline had been officially launched as a department. It was now the SCS.
Moore—still enticed by his American dream—arrived in Boston later that year for a post-doctoral position at MIT. He was excited to expand his knowledge with work on dynamic robotics, or robots that can interact with moving objects. And these lucky robots didn’t stack boxes—they practiced juggling and playing pool. That summer, PhD student Jeff Schneider, who would one day share coffee shop advice with Moore, came to spend the season at the MIT lab. Schneider was impressed by the work and quickly by Moore.
Back in Pittsburgh, changes were stirring at CMU. The SCS was preparing to welcome an eager new group into its ranks.
“When I got to CMU, it was clear the priorities were research, research, and research,” recalls Randal Bryant, university professor of computer science who had joined the faculty in 1984. “Interest in undergraduate education was very low. There was no computer science major. There was a huge transition in the ’90s, elevating undergraduate education. If you look across CMU computer science today, extremely high-quality undergraduates are a big part of the enterprise.”
In 1990, seven lucky sophomores became the first undergraduate computer science majors and Raj Reddy was soon named the SCS’s new dean. Bryant describes the growth of computer science, as it “broadened into a very extensive field that covered everything from the pure mathematical theory of computation to human computer interaction.” And as the field widened, the SCS responded. More specialized offshoots formed within the college, including the Center for Machine Learning and the Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).
Building on Newell’s vision of interdisciplinary innovation, Jim Morris founded the HCII, a then-controversial collaborative center where psychologists and designers worked hand-in-hand with computer scientists.
“As a school of our own, SCS has had the huge advantage of being able to expand beyond the boundaries of engineering, unlike our competitors who are all within engineering schools,” explains Bryant. “With computers now touching every corner of society, it’s been critical to view things not just as engineering systems, but to consider how people behave and interact. Newell and Simon appreciated the potential for this perspective, a very early vision that helped propel us forward and make us unique.”
And it was Newell and Simon’s vision for artificial intelligence (AI) that moved Moore, with the world before him, to join the CMU faculty fresh from his postdoc in 1993.
“All growing up, and at college, and doing my PhD, AI was the coolest thing I could imagine and it had really been born at Carnegie Mellon,” explains Moore. “One of the dreams for AI is for robots to make smart decisions in order to survive by themselves. There was so much expertise and love for making machines intelligent here. That’s why I came.”
Once Moore was on the Pittsburgh campus, his intellectual curiosity quickly led him into varied areas from improving manufacturing techniques to detecting early bioterrorism detection to locating remote asteroids. Schneider soon followed Moore to CMU as his first post-doctoral researcher, staying on to join the faculty. Through it all, Moore’s theme was gathering and using data to build predictive models that in turn, would allow a machine to learn—and improve itself based on its own experience.
All the while, members of the CMU family continued to break new ground. In 1991, alumnus James Gosling (CS’83) unveiled Java, the first programming language with the ability to run on nearly any platform. It would become—and remain—one of the world’s most popular programming languages. In 1994, alumnus Michael Mauldin (CS’83,’89) developed Lycos, one of the first successful search engines. By the end of the decade, it would be the most-visited site on the Web.
By the dawn of the new millennium, computers had become so ingrained in everyday life that widespread panic spread over the potentially cataclysmic y2k bug. Analysts grimly prophesied a New Year’s Eve punctuated by champagne and global network failure as computers misunderstood the 00 in 2000. Thankfully, fears proved to be largely unfounded as day broke to little more than soggy confetti.
Computer science and the SCS continued to barrel into the future as Jim Morris assumed the role of SCS dean. Under Morris’s leadership, the program, long recognized as one of the best, shot to the top, along with MIT, Stanford, and UC-Berkeley. The ranks of women undergraduates swelled and the Silicon Valley campus was established.
In 2003, Andrew Moore realized his childhood ambition of becoming a U.S. citizen as he continued his work at CMU. He was now a respected, tenured professor of computer science and robotics, and his future appeared to be contentedly settled. Google, however, had its own plans. Committed to establishing outposts near leading world centers of computer science, and seeing that CMU was high on the list, they asked Moore to be Google Pittsburgh’s founding director.
As Moore carefully weighed the decision, Schneider, on leave, received a series of phone calls over a number of weeks. In the end, it was an opportunity Moore says he couldn’t pass up. In 2006, he set up shop in a rented office on the CMU campus.
Within a few years, the office that had begun with just two employees had become a crew of hundreds, occupying 140,000 square feet a few miles from campus. Moore led the team in advertising, shopping and fraud-detection projects, among others. In 2011, he was named vice president of engineering of Google Commerce. Along the way, he picked up some unexpected lessons.
“It was much harder than I anticipated,” says a thoughtful Moore. “I learned to really respect the concept of product development. If you’re building something for millions of people to use, you’ve got to be really creative in the design of the whole product, not just the technology behind it. The greatest joy in life, I think, is when you’re arguing with someone in front of a white board and you’re having to grab the marker out of someone’s hand to adjust an equation because it really matters.”
As Google Pittsburgh grew, so did the SCS. Randal Bryant had assumed the helm in 2004. Through his tenure, undergraduate applications rose to more than 6,000 for the same 140 spots and a culture of entrepreneurship blossomed. The striking 217,000-square-foot Gates Hillman building was completed in 2009, to the great relief of a school that had outgrown not only Wean, but also the refurbished Newell-Simon and Smith halls. Good thing—by 2013, the SCS had expanded to nearly 1,700 students.
Those top-notch students happily welcomed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, when he chose to visit in 2011 on a personal recruiting trip to one of only three universities: CMU, Harvard and MIT. “The students at Carnegie Mellon who have come to Facebook are among our most productive people,” Zuckerberg had pointed out. “When we organized this trip … Carnegie Mellon was at the top of the list.”
As 2014 rolled around, milestones again hung on the horizon. Moore, and the CSD, were both on the cusp of turning 50. It had been 25 years since the SCS creation was announced and celebration plans were under way. The slate of events included lectures, presentations and panels featuring James Gosling, Facebook’s Serkan Piantino (CS’04), Microsoft Research’s Peter Lee, Dropbox’s Aditya Agarwal (CS’03,’04) and more.
In the midst of it all, Moore, “extremely happy” at Google, found himself at a surprising and unexpected juncture. Bryant was stepping down—would he consider the position of dean?
So here he sits on a spring day in 2014, in the shadow of the Google logo, contemplating another big decision with Schneider. Sometimes the road ahead circles us back. Schneider receives an email a few weeks after their coffee, before the flurry of formal announcements. Moore is coming back.
“I saw the potential of what was happening all across the campus and its impact—and I was overcome with excitement,” enthuses Moore. “Look at Google—or any of the major Internet and startup companies around the world. You can often trace the birthplace of their technologies right back to CMU.”
On August 18, Moore steps into his spacious new dean’s office in Gates Hillman, shelves empty and walls bare. Taking in the scene, he is keenly aware of who and what has come before him. Countless faculty and alumni have been making their impact on computer science at CMU—and in the world—for more than half a century. Twelve SCS faculty and alumni have won the A.M. Turing Award, often called the Nobel of computing, including Simon, Newell, Perlis, and Reddy. The students would be arriving in seven days, with who-knows-how-many Simons and Newells among them.
Moore looks around at the clean slate before him. His eyes twinkle. He’s ready to lead.