Recognizing a lifetime of achievement in cognitive systems

Laird has been an energetic contributor to AI and cognitive science for over 30 years

John Laird Enlarge
Prof. John Laird

John Laird, the John L. Tishman Professor of Engineering, has been awarded the 2018 Herbert A. Simon Prize for Advances in Cognitive Systems along with his collaborator Prof. Paul Rosenbloom of the University of Southern California. This award recognizes the pair’s research on cognitive architectures, especially their Soar project, their applications to knowledge-based systems and models of human cognition, and their contributions to theories of representation, reasoning, problem solving, and learning.

The recipients, the awarding committee writes, have been “energetic contributors to AI and cognitive science” for over 30 years. Laird’s and Rosenbloom’s interdisciplinary and integrative research, both jointly and individually, has addressed many facets of high-level cognition, and their contributions to Soar have helped create one of the industry’s most successful tools for developing intelligent systems.

Soar is a general cognitive architecture for developing systems that exhibit intelligent behavior. The architecture is in use all over the world, both from the fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, finding a variety of applications since the release of its first version in 1983.

The goal of the project, now at Version 9, is to create a general computational system that has the same cognitive abilities as humans. To fit this description, Soar aims to work on tasks ranging from routine to difficult and open-ended, use many different forms of knowledge (like semantic, procedural, and iconic), interact with the outside world, and employ the full range of problem solving methods.

“The ultimate in intelligence would be complete rationality which would imply the ability to use all available knowledge for every task that the system encounters,” the authors say on the project’s website.

Laird authored a textbook on the architecture, The Soar Cognitive Architecture, that offers a definitive presentation of Soar from theoretical and practical perspectives up to its 2012 distribution. Soar has been the central focus of Laird’s work since 1981, and he has applied the technology to his spinoff company, Soar Technology.

The focus at Soar Technology is using intelligent software to augment humans across a range of tasks. The company’s products are designed to reason like humans do, automate complex tasks, simplify human-machine interactions, and model human behaviors. Founded in 1998, it now does business with a variety of US agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Transportation.

The Herbert A. Simon Prize, now in its second year, recognizes scientists who have made important and sustained contributions to understanding human and machine intelligence through the design, creation, and study of computational artifacts that exhibit high-level cognition. Laird received the award at the Sixth Annual Conference on Advances in Cognitive Systems on August 20, 2018 at Stanford University.