Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL)
The semi-circular building in the right center near Felt Lake
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of engineering devoted to creating intelligent machines, so I and others prefer to call it machine intelligence. It is an ever-changing field in that as soon as a certain problem is solved it becomes ordinary engineering and is no longer part of AI. .
SAIL History. This web site was created early in the new millennium to review accomplishments of the ancient Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), whose government funding was initiated in 1965 by Professors John McCarthy and Edward Feigenbaum and Lester Earnest was then recruited to design, set up, name and manage that graduate study facility. It typically ran with a population of a bit over 100 and nearly all participants seemed to have an enjoyable and productive time there, though Earnest had to deal with McCarthy’s financial corruption by boxing him in. It ran there for13 years but was shut down in 1980 after a move to the newly renovated Margaret Jacks Hall in the Outer Quad of the main campus.
Along the way, Earnest initiated development of what became the first hand-eye-ear robot with the help of recent Professor Raj Reddy and his students. It took verbal instructions on how to manipulate children’s blocks on a table and used computer vision and a robot arm to do it – see , a 1969 15-minute color video. Earnest also initiated the first attempt at a self-driving vehicle, the , but McCarthy decided he wanted to play with it and took it over, then terminated the project. However, a new PhD student named Hans Moravec revived the vehicle and got it to navigate slowly through a cluttered room, similar to research being done at nearby SRI International. Raj Reddy and Hans Moravec then each migrated to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and set up a Robotics Lab there, which again took up the self-driving vehicle problem.
SAIL became a hotbed of innovation that directly or indirectly produced dozens of commercial spinoffs, some very successful such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle), Cisco Systems (actually more of a ripoff), D.E. Shaw and Associates, and Amazon.com. SAIL alumni also made substantial contributions to Xerox PARC, Apple Computers and other startups. Seventeen winners of ACM Turing Awards (the computer science equivalent of a Nobel Prize) had previous SAIL affiliations.
The founders of both Microsoft (Bill Gates & Paul Allen) and Apple Computers (Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak) were introduced to interactive computing by people from SAIL and many other successful companies were founded directly or indirectly by people from SAIL including Amazon, Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle), Cisco Systems, D.E. Shaw & Associates, Google, and Rambus.
SAILors spun off many successful academic research groups. For example, in addition to the CMU Robotics Lab, Rodney Brooks earned his PhD at SAIL in 1981 then went to MIT and in 1997 formed the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), an indication that he liked the name SAIL. He also founded IRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, and another robotics company.
In the late 1970s a SAIL group led by Lynn Quam undertook a planetary research project in collaboration with astronomer , who came by every few weeks to view photos of Mars taken by satellite and looking for visible changes. He later put together the very popular PBS television series called .
SAIL staff member Whit Diffie initiated the development of Public Key Cryptography in collaboration with Prof. Martin Hellman, for which they were given ACM Turing Awards. A practical version of that scheme was developed by RSA Corp., which was initiated by Ron Rivest, another PhD SAILor.
· The four richest publicly-traded corporations in the world at the end of 2018 were all SAIL spinoffs: (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon in that order.
· , widely viewed as the Nobel Prize for computer science and evidently more than any other lab in the world.
A SAIL document and program archive running from 1972 to 1992 is available online at , courtesy of Bruce Baumgart.
L. Earnest (ed.), J. McCarthy, E. Feigenbaum & J. Lederberg, Stanford University Report No. STAN-CS-74-409, July 1973. Summarizes research in computer vision and robotics (hand-eye systems and a robot vehicle), speech recognition, heuristic programming, representation theory, mathematical theory of computation, and modeling of organic chemical processes, all performed under a contract with the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Ancillary projects included the development of a multi-processor timesharing system with display terminals on all desks, advanced programming languages (LISP and SAIL), the first interactive computer aided design system (SUDS) as well as research in higher mental functions, computer generated music and Mars picture processing.
L. Earnest, . Many people seem to think that computerized social networking is a recent phenomenon, but it actually blossomed first in1975 aided by a program called Finger that was written for a different purpose, namely snooping on computer users. As sometimes happens when computer programs get into the hands of users, they flipped it over and used it for a different purpose, in this case for social networking and blogging, though those two terms did not come into general use until about 25 years later.
Choosing an eye for a computer, Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Memo AIM-51, April 1967. Develops performance models for alternative visual sensors and shows, among other things, that image dissector cameras (one of which had been purchased at great expense by Stanford on advice of an MIT professor) have much lower performance than inexpensive Vidicon cameras.
L. Earnest, was born as a research platform for studying the problem of controlling a Moon rover from Earth. It then was reconfigured as an autonomous road vehicle for research in visual navigation, then went into show business for a few years. It now resides in a home for retired robots while awaiting a comeback.
J. McCarthy, L. Earnest, D. Raj Reddy and P. Vicens, A computer with hands, eyes and ears, AFIPS Vol. 33, (Proc. 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference), Thompson, Washington D.C. 1968. Describes Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab research facilities and accomplishments in speech recognition, computer vision and robotics.
L. Earnest, Choosing an eye for a computer, Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Memo AIM-51, April 1967. Develops performance models for alternative visual sensors and shows, among other things, that image dissector cameras (one of which had been purchased by SAIL at great expense) have much lower performance than inexpensive Vidicon cameras.
L. Earnest, , Jan. 1, 2009. The radar atop Mt. Umunhum, south of San Jose, California, which was part of the SAGE air defense system, managed to get even with me in 1966 for badmouthing the crooked system in which it operated.
L. Earnest, , The Analytical Engine, May 1995. Reviews some spin-offs of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) that helped populate Silicon Valley.
J. McCarthy & L. Earnest, DIALNET and home computers, Proc. First West Coast Computer Faire, San Francisco, April 1977. Described a system that provided ARPANET-like services to multiple users via switched telephone circuits, including email, file transfer and remote login.