Roger C. Schank, a scientist who made significant contributions to the field of artificial intelligence before concentrating on human learning as an academic, author, and businessman, passed away on January 29 in Shelburne, Vermont. He was 76. His wife, Annie Schank, said the cause was heart failure. Dr. Schank, a resident of Quebec, had been deteriorating for more than a year, she claimed.
The research of Dr. Schank incorporated computer science, cognitive science, and linguistics. In a 1995 essay, he stated that “trying to understand the nature of the human mind” and “creating models of the human mind on the computer” was the unifying theme of his numerous efforts in academia and business.
Dr. Schank created notions for representing in symbols for a computer simple concepts that humans describe in words, such as persons and places, things and events, and cause-and-effect relationships, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He referred to his idea as “conceptual dependency theory.”
Dr. Schank eventually devised methods for assembling this knowledge’s raw materials into something that might resemble human recollections of the past. He referred to these more substantial knowledge-building elements as “scripts” and saw them as necessary components for case-based reasoning, often known as learning from examples.
Harvard cognitive researcher Steven Pinker stated on a memorial website that Roger Schank required reading while he was a graduate student in the late 1970s. He was considered a leading scholar and theorist in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Yet, Dr. Schank’s theories were first presented when computers were still bulky, slow, and expensive.
It was useless to try to program a computer to carry out his thoughts. Finally, statistical pattern-matching rather than trying to educate computers to think as people led to advancements in artificial intelligence. The statistical pattern-matching method, supported by enormous data stores and extremely fast computers, has produced impressive advancements, particularly over the last ten years.
These flaws, according to computer scientists, might allow Dr. Schank’s old ideas to find new life. They claim that by including structured reasoning and physical world data, the flaws in the new large language model programs could be fixed.
According to Kristian Hammond, an A.I. researcher at Northwestern University and a former student of Dr. Schank’s, “These models can do wonderful things, but they need to be led.” Large language models now have the enabling technology for Roger Schank’s work to materialize.
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That will likely become a part of his legacy, Dr. Hammond predicted. On March 12, 1946, Roger Carl Schank was born in Manhattan. The New York State Liquor Authority’s administrator was Maxwell, the boy’s father. His mother, Margaret (Rosenberg) Schank, owned and operated a wholesale business in ornamental beads.
Dr. Schank attended Stuyvesant High School in New York and received his education there. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a bachelor’s in mathematics and the University of Texas with a doctorate in linguistics. Dr. Schank began his academic career as an assistant professor at Stanford University before joining Yale University in 1974 as a professor of computer science and psychology.
Over the course of his 15 years there, he supervised dozens of students who went on to become AI researchers at colleges and businesses including the Georgia Institute of Technology and Google.
He also served as the department’s chairman and became the director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project. Two of Dr. Schank’s books for general readers were chosen for The New York Times Book Review’s annual list of “notable books” due to his prolific writing career.
Susan Chace called the 1984 book “The Cognitive Computer: On Language, Learning, and Artificial Intelligence,” co-authored with Peter G. Childers, a “clear, amusing, and insightful” assessment of the difficulties in “trying to persuade computers to emulate human reasoning.”
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