Newell, Allen

Allen Newell (1927-1992), cognitive psychologist and computer scientist, made profound contributions to fields ranging from computer architecture and programming software to artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and psychology. One of the founding fathers of the new domains of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, his work continues to exercise a major influence on these developing fields.

Newell was born on March 19, 1927, in San Francisco, the son of Dr. Robert R. Newell, a distinguished radiologist on the faculty of the Stanford Medical School, and Jeanette LeValley Newell. He attended San Francisco public schools, and served in the Navy after World War II, assisting in mapping radiation intensities at the Eniwetok A-bomb tests, an experience that awoke his interest in science. In 1949, he received a B.S. degree in Physics at Stanford, then spent a postgraduate year studying mathematics at Princeton University. A desire to learn more about applications domains led him to a position studying logistics and air defense organization at Rand in Santa Monica, a "think tank" supported by the U.S. Air Force, and gave him early contact with the then emerging electronic digital computers.

At almost the beginning of the computer era, Newell, collaborating with J. C. Shaw and H. A. Simon, conceived that computers might solve problems, non-numerical or numerical, by selective HEURISTIC SEARCH, as people do. Needing programming languages that would provide flexible memory structures, they invented list processing languages (or Information Processing Languages, IPLs) in 1956. Today, list processing is an indispensable tool for artificial intelligence and computer science, central to such widely used languages as LISP and OPS5, and providing a basis for structured programming.

The research continued at Carnegie Institute of Technology (after 1965, Carnegie Mellon University), where Newell enrolled in 1955 to pursue a Ph.D. in Industrial Administration, with a thesis -- probably the first -- in artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, Newell and his associates at Rand and Carnegie used the IPLs to create the first artificial intelligence programs, including the Logic Theorist (1956), the General Problem Solver (1959), and the NSS chess program (1958), introducing fundamental ideas that are still at the core of PROBLEM SOLVING theory, including means-ends analysis and PLANNING. To test how well these simulations accounted for human problem solving, the group used thinking-aloud protocols. Newell received his doctorate in 1958, joined the faculty of Carnegie Tech in 1961 as a full professor, and retained this position for the remaining three decades of his life.

In 1972, Newell and Simon summarized their psychological research, which employed verbal protocols and computer simulation, in their book Human Problem Solving. Recognizing the potential of PRODUCTION SYSTEMS (programs consisting of condition-action statements, employed in most AI programs and expert systems), in 1981, Newell designed the language OPS5.

To generalize psychological simulations and endow them with a more realistic control structure, Newell's research focused increasingly on devising a powerful and veridical cognitive architecture that would provide a framework for general cognitive theories. A major product of this work was the Soar system, developed with Paul Rosenbloom and John Laird, a substantial extension of GPS that operates in multiple problem spaces and has powerful learning capabilities. Dozens of investigators are now using Soar as the architecture for intelligent systems, both simulations of human thinking and expert systems for AI. Soar and the future of unified theories were the subject of Newell's last book, Unified Theories of Cognition (1990), based on his William James Lectures at Harvard.

Apart from the Soar research, much of Newell's productive effort went into what he called his "diversions," which almost all produced important contributions to cognitive science. These included investigations with Gordon Bell of computer architectures, reported in Computer Structures (1971), and participation in a team at CMU designing parallel computer architectures. He also served as chair of the committee that monitored the research in computer SPEECH RECOGNITION sponsored by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Yet another "diversion" was research with Card and Moran (The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction, 1983) that reinvigorated human factors studies, extending them to complex cognitive processes.

In addition to his scientific work, Newell provided leadership in such organizations as the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, and the Cognitive Science Society (serving as president of both), and he provided advice to agencies of the national government. He played a leading role in creating and developing the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and the innovations in computing and electronic networking of its campus.

For his scientific and professional contributions, Newell received numerous honors and awards, including the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Lifetime Contributions Award of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award of the American Psychological Association, and the A. M. Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery, and honorary degrees from the Universities of Groningen (Netherlands) and Pennsylvania. He was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences.

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-- Herbert A. Simon


Bell, C. G., and A. Newell. (1971). Computer Structures: Readings and Examples. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Brownston, L., Farrell, R., and E. Kent. (1985). Programming Expert Systems in OPS5: An Introduction to Rule-Based Programming. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Card, S., T. P. Moran, and A. Newell. (1983). The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Forgy, C. L. (1979). On the Efficient Implementation of Production Systems. Ph.D. diss., Department of Computer Science, Carne-gie Mellon University.

Newell, A. (1990). Unified Theories of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Newell, A., and J. C. Shaw. (1957). Programming the logic theory machine. Proceedings of the 1957 Western Joint Computer Conference. New York: Institute of Radio Engineers. pp. 230-240.

Newell, A., J. C. Shaw, and H. A. Simon. (1959). Report on a general problem-solving program. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Processing. Paris, pp. 256-264.

Newell, A., J. C. Shaw, and H. A. Simon. (1958b). Chess-playing programs and the problem of complexity. IBM Journal of Research and Development 2:320-335.

Newell, A., J. C. Shaw, and H. A. Simon. (1960). Report on a general problem-solving program for a computer. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Processing. Paris: UNESCO, pp. 256-264.

Newell, A., and H. A. Simon. (1956). The logic theory machine: a complex information processing system. IRE Transactions on Information Theory IT-2, no. 3:61-79.

Newell, A., and H. A. Simon. (1972). Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.