RIP Nils John Nilsson; an AI visionary, inventor of A* algorithm, STRIPS automatic planning system and many more

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It was black day yesterday for the AI community as it lost one of the most celebrated AI pioneers and visionary, Nils John Nilsson. Nilsson passed away at the age of 86 and he was the first Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Computer Science department at Stanford University. He is known for inventing A* algorithm for path finding and also for leading the Shakey project at SRI which was one of the first mobile robots with visual projection and trajectory planning.

Professor Nilsson has published five textbooks on artificial intelligence, namely, Problem-Solving Methods in Artificial Intelligence (1971), Principles of Artificial Intelligence (1980), Artificial Intelligence: A New Synthesis (1998), The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements (2010), and Understanding Beliefs (2014).

He has also served on the editorial boards of the journal Artificial Intelligence and of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research. His contributions to the field of planning, search, knowledge representation, and robotics have been respected worldwide.

Nilsson was the Chairman of the Computer Science department at Stanford, where he taught artificial intelligence and machine learning. He served the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Center for twenty-three years. He also carried out his research on how robots react to the dynamic world, plan actions based on it, and learn from experience. He has worked on statistical and neural-network approaches to pattern recognition at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Center. Additionally, he has contributed towards the STRIPS automatic planning system.

In one of the books, The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements, Professor Nilsson wrote, “Clues about what might be needed to make machines intelligent are scattered abundantly throughout philosophy, logic, biology, psychology, statistics, and engineering. With gradually increasing intensity, people set about to exploit clues from these areas in their separate quests to automate some aspects of intelligence.”

He also defined Artificial Intelligence in the same book, “Artificial intelligence (AI) may lack an agreed-upon definition… For me, artificial intelligence is that activity devoted to making machines intelligent, and intelligence is that quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment.”

Computer Science professor, Andrew Ng expressed his condolences and said that he lost a friend. He appreciated his efforts on A* algorithm and believes that a lot of researchers rely on this wonderful invention.

Researchers, engineers, and AI enthusiast are mourning and expressing their condolences throughout on internet. Professor Nilsson’s contribution to the field of AI will be remembered always.

To know more about this news, check out Stanford’s page.

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