An interview with
ACM Fellow and A.M. Turing Award recipient Edward A. Feigenbaum,
a pioneer in the field of expert systems, reflects on his career.
The CoMPUTer hisTory Mu- seum has an active program to gather videotaped histo- ries from people who have done pioneering work in
this first century of the information
age. These tapes are a rich aggregation
of stories that are preserved in the collection, transcribed, and made available on the Web to researchers, students, and anyone curious about how
invention happens. The oral histories
are conversations about people’s lives.
We want to know about their upbringing, their families, their education,
and their jobs. But above all, we want
to know how they came to the passion
and creativity that leads to innovation.
Presented here are excerptsa from
four interviews with Edward A. Feigenbaum, the Kumagai Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, at Stanford
University and a pioneering researcher
in artificial intelligence. The interviews
were conducted in 2007 separately by
Donald Knuth and Nils Nilsson, both
professors of computer science at Stanford University. —Len Shustek
the book, and so there’s a tremendous
focus on learning, and books, and
reading. I learned to read very early.
PHo TogRAPH by HAn S HEnRIk H. HEMIng
What was your family background?
I was born in New Jersey in 1936 to a
culturally Jewish family. That Jewish
culture thinks of itself as the people of
a Oral histories are not scripted, and a tran-
script of casual speech is very different from
what one would write. I have taken the liberty
of editing liberally and reordering freely for
presentation. For the original transcripts, see
What got you interested in
science and engineering?
My stepfather was the only one in the
family who had any college education.
Once a month he would take me to the
Hayden Planetarium of the American
Museum of Natural History. I got really
interested in science, mostly through
astronomy, at about 10 years old.
My stepfather worked as an accoun-
tant and had a Monroe calculator. I
was absolutely fascinated by these cal-
culators and learned to use them with
great facility. That was one of my great
skills—in contrast to other friends of
mine whose great skills were things
like being on the tennis team.
Why did you study
I got As in everything, but I really en-