Magazine article AI Magazine

In Memoriam: Daniel G. Bobrow

Magazine article AI Magazine

In Memoriam: Daniel G. Bobrow

Article excerpt

AAAI Fellow and AAAI past-president Daniel G. Bobrow was born in 1935 in New York City. He attended the Bronx School of Science along with his close friend Bert Raphael, another AI luminary. From the beginning, Danny, as he was known, was a deeply intuitive thinker who would arrive at the conclusion to a problem or assignment before anyone else. Bert reports that when Danny and he did their college work together, Danny would leap to the correct answer, and Bert was left filling in the steps. This pattern repeated itself often over Danny's long career with many of his collaborators.

Danny completed his Ph.D. dissertation in 1964 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he published a thesis entitled Natural Language Input for a Computer Problem Solving System under Marvin Minsky. The thesis described STUDENT, a revolutionary program that could solve algebra word problems stated in English as found in high-school algebra textbooks. Danny's was one the first theses on natural language understanding - a topic that would remain a central interest of his throughout his long career. He also was one of the first students at what would later become the MIT AI Lab. The technical report describing his thesis was the first in a series of illustrious research results: Project MAC technical report: MAC-TR-1.

After graduating, Danny became an assistant professor at MIT for a year before moving in 1965 to nearby BBN Laboratories. During his tenure, BBN became a hotbed of AI research. By 1972 Danny had become the vice president of BBN's Computer Science Division. It was during his time at BBN that Danny manifested the quality he is best known for: collaboration. His participation in any project made it dramatically better, and his broad range of interests enabled him to participate in a wide range of projects. Danny helped develop and supervise the PDP-10 operating system TENEX, which was widely used in AI and Arpanet research. The TENEX development group won the ACM Special Interest Group on Operating Systems (SIGOPS) Hall of Fame Award in 2005. While at BBN, Danny contributed to BBN-Lisp, which later became Interlisp and contributed to Common Lisp- a language that many AI researchers use today. In 1992 the Interlisp team won the ACM Software System Award.

In 1972, Danny was awarded a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Edinburgh, which enabled him to return to working on natural language understanding. He then moved to the newly founded Xerox Palo Alto Research Laboratory as a Research Fellow. He worked at PARC for the rest of his life, where he continued his Lisp development with Interlisp. He also started working with Terry Winograd and Richard Fikes on natural language. Terry and Danny developed one of the first frame-based knowledge representation languages: KRL. During this time, he worked with Mark Stefik on a collaboration framework, Colab, which was one of the earliest tools to support collaborative computer work. His book with Gregor Kiczales and Jim des Rivieres, The Art of the MetaObject Protocol was the first detailed discussion of meta-object protocols and is the basis the object system used in most Common Lisp implementations.

Danny was a genius at fostering collaboration among his colleagues. …

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