Herbert Simon

Herbert Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for his work in bounded rationality. He is one of the founding fathers of modern research in artificial intelligence and the co-author, with the late Allen Newell (pictured above right with Simon), of the General Problem Solver program. He published Models of Thought, volume one, in 1979, and followed in in 1989 with a second volume. In the photograph on the left he is shown with one of the tools of the trade: The Tower of Hanoi. Here is his description of the Tower and its importance in cognitive research from his 1991 memoir, Models of My Life:

The Tower of Hanoi is a puzzle of Chinese origin involving a pyramid of disks impaled on one of three vertical pegs. The task is to move the pyramid to one of the other pegs, moving only one disk at a time, and never placing a disk atop another that is smaller than it. . . . If chess plays the role in cognitive research that Drosophila does in genetics, the Tower of Hanoi is the analogue of E. coli, providing another standardized setting around which knowledge can accumulate.

Using these well-tried tools is fitting. Old dogs should not be learning new tricks after their sixty-second birthdays.

Simon's work has nonetheless taken new directions in the past decade, including his recent work on learning processes and, as shown by his participation in this forum, his interest in the relations between the arts and sciences. The article presented here originated as a Hitchcock Lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, which Simon delivered in 1991.