In Memoriam

October 2011

The Department of Computer Science is saddened to report that Emeritus Professor John McCarthy died on October 24, 2011 at age 84.  John was one of the founders of artificial intelligence (AI), coining that name in 1955.  From that time until his death he made foundational contributions both to AI and to computer science in general.  In a famous 1958 paper and subsequent memos, he proposed (and thereafter strongly held) that the knowledge needed by AI programs should be represented in declarative sentences (principally in a logical language) rather than being encoded within the programs that use that knowledge.  As he put it, “Sentences can be true in much wider contexts than specific programs can be useful.”

John’s work on AI systems that could reason with declarative knowledge inspired a legion of researchers who, along with John, advanced this approach to AI and produced many practical applications of it.  Realizing some of the difficulties of getting logical systems to reason with commonsense knowledge, John extended logic to be able to deal with contexts and with the use of default (but not necessarily universally true) knowledge.

In 1958, John invented the list processing language LISP, which became the language of choice for programming AI systems.  Programs written in LISP have flown in a NASA spacecraft and are key parts of several practical AI systems.  John’s 1960 paper “Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I,” established the theoretical foundations of LISP as a...

June 2009

Rajeev Motwani, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, passed away on June 5, 2009.

Rajeev was a luminary in many academic disciplines.  He made fundamental contributions to the foundations of computer science, search and information retrieval, streaming databases and data mining, and robotics.   In these areas, he considered questions as philosophical as what makes problems inherently intractable, and as practical as finding similar images and documents from a database.  His text book, Randomized Algorithms, with Prabhakar Raghavan, epitomizes this meeting of the abstract and the concrete, and has been a source of inspiration to countless students. He has received many awards for his research; notably, the Gödel Prize, and the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. Rajeev’s academic legacy extends to teaching and advising a large number of students,  many of whom have gone on to successful academic careers.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Rajeev was a legendary figure in Silicon Valley. He was an early investor and technical advisor for many ventures, and mentored dozens of young enterpreneurs.  In the words of one of those young enterpreneurs, Sergey Brin, “Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it.”

You may visit Rajeev's home page at

November 2007

Gene Golub, Professor of Computer Science, died on November 16, 2007 at age 75 after a recent diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.   Gene was born on February 29, 1932 in Chicago.  He earned his bachelors, masters and PhD, all in mathematics, from the University of Illinois.  His PhD advisor was Abraham Taub, who was influenced in turn by John von Neumann and became the general editor of John van Neumann’s 6 volume biography.  In 1959 Gene received an NFS Fellowship and worked as a fellow at the Mathematical Laboratory at University of Cambridge for 15 months. He worked for several industrial companies, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, and Space Technology Laboratories before he returned to academia.   In 1962, Gene joined the faculty of Stanford as a visiting assistant professor in the Computer Science Division. Gene joined the newly formed Computer Science Department in and was chairman of the department from 1981 to 1985.

Gene was a leading pioneer in the field of numerical analysis, creating algorithms and software that allowed researchers to run large engineering and science calculations effectively on computers. In 1964, together with William Kahan and Christian Reinsch, he created an algorithm to compute the Singular Value Decomposition, or SVD, which will forever be an essential computational tool.

Professor Golub’s many contributions have been internationally recognized. He was the recipient of 10 honorary degrees from institutions around the world and an honorary member of numerous societies. He authored or co-...

August 2005

Joseph Oliger, professor emeritus of computer science and co-founder of Stanford's Scientific Computing and Computational Mathematics Program, died of cancer at his home in Truckee, Calif. He was 63.

Oliger was born Sept. 3, 1941, in Greensburg, Ind. He received his bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1966 and his master's degree in 1971, both from the University of Colorado. Between 1965 and 1973, he worked as a programmer and numerical analyst at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He received a doctorate in computer science from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, in 1973.

Oliger joined the Stanford Computer Science Department in 1974 as an assistant professor, teaching numerical analysis courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He became a full professor in 1980. In 1987, Oliger co-founded the Scientific Computing and Computational Mathematics Program with professors Gene Golub, George Homsy and Joseph Keller. Oliger was noted for his influential work on partial differential equations that arise in meteorological problems.

He was an active adviser and mentor for a number of graduate students. In addition to his work in the Computer Science Department, Oliger consulted with students and faculty in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics. Joe wrote many technical articles, reports and books, notably Time Dependent Problems and Difference Methods, with his former thesis adviser, Heinz-Otto Kreiss, and Bertil Gustafsson, published in 1996.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Oliger enjoyed the...

March 2003

"Jack" joined the Math Department in 1942 and again in 1946 after two years as a physicist with Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field. In 1953 Stanford University received its first computer and Prof. Herriot, a pure mathematician, assumed responsibility as the first Director of the newly founded Computation Center. In Spring of 1955, he taught the first programming course "Theory and Operation of Computing Machines" to 25 students using an IBM Card Programmed Calculator, Model II. Enrollment mushroomed to 150 in 1959 In 1956, he started working with students in a new math masters program in "Scientific Computation". In 1957, he helped recruit George Forsythe to the math department. In 1961, he and George Forsythe founded the Computer Science Division of the Mathematics Department and started hiring computer science faculty. In January 1965 the faculty of the Computer Science Division moved to the newly founded Computer Science Department. He served as acting department chairman from 66-67 and 72-73. His principal interests were in numerical analysis, especially in the development and description of algorithms useful for solving various problems arising in numerical analysis.

Professor Herriot passed away March 16, 2003, at the age of 87.

September 2001

Computer pioneer Robert W. Floyd, a professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Computer Science, died on Sept. 25 after a long illness. He was 65.

"In the old days, programmers would just twiddle with programs till they seemed to work," says Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming Donald Knuth. "Floyd showed that there was a way to prove programs would work." His approach of marrying math with computer science was "a revelation to the field," Knuth says.

"Floyd's 1960s method of invariants, in which assertions are attached to points in a computer program, is still the basis of much work in proving that computer programs meet their specifications," says John McCarthy, professor emeritus of computer science.

Born in New York on June 8, 1936, Floyd was recognized as a child prodigy at age 6; he skipped three grades and finished high school at 14. A scholarship allowed him to study at the University of Chicago, where he received a bachelor's degree in liberal arts in 1953 at age 17. After that he supported himself and earned another bachelor's degree in physics in 1958.

Though he never went through the formalities of obtaining a doctorate, prior to his appointment as an associate professor of computer science at Stanford in 1968, he had written at least a dozen papers considered superior to any doctoral dissertation in computer science at the time. One of the hottest topics in computer science at the time was the language of computer programming. Says Knuth: "There were only four good papers on the topic -- all by...

July 1990

Professor Emeritus Arthur L. Samuel died July 29, 1990 at Stanford hospital from complications related to Parkinson's disease. Arthur Samuel was a pioneer of artificial intelligence research. His life spanned a broad personal and scientific history.

Arthur Samuel was born in Emporia, Kansas in 1901. He graduated from M.I.T. with a Master's of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1926, working intermittently at General Electric Co. in Schenectady. He later did graduate work in Physics at Columbia University. His undergraduate school, the College of Emporia, awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1946. After his master's degree he stayed on at M.I.T. as an instructor in Electrical Engineering until 1928, when he joined Bell Telephone Laboratories. At Bell Labs he mainly worked on electron tubes. Particularly notable was his work on space charge between parallel electrodes and his wartime work on TR-boxes. This is a switch that disconnects the receiver of a radar when the radar is transmitting and prevents the sensitive receiver from being destroyed by the high power transmitter.  In 1946 Samuel became Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois and became active in their project to design one of the first electronic computers. It was there he conceived the idea of a checker program that would beat the world champion and demonstrate the power of electronic computers. Apparently the program was not finished while he was at the University of Illinois, perhaps because the computer wasn't finished in time.

In 1949 Samuel joined...