A sure Thing
Artificial intelligence pioneer Judea Pearl discusses probability,
causation, the calculus of intervention, and counterfactuals.
configurations, others worked on
photochromic memory, and I worked
on superconductors, where one could
store information in the form of localized circulating vortices.
aCM a.M. tUrInG Award winner Judea
Pearl took a somewhat unusual path
to the field that now celebrates his
pioneering achievements in artificial
intelligence. Born in Israel in 1936, he
grew up in Bnei Brak, a biblical town
his grandfather refounded in 1924.
After serving in the Israeli army and
joining a kibbutz, he decided to study
electrical engineering at the Tech-nion-Israel Institute of Technology. (A
profile of Pearl, “Game Changer,” appears on p. 22.)
He came to the U.S. in 1960, where
he did graduate studies in physics
and electrical engineering at Rut-
gers University and the Polytechnic
Institute of Brooklyn, and worked at
RCA Research Laboratories. In 1970,
Pearl joined the University of Califor-
nia, Los Angeles’s (UCLA’s) computer
science department and began the
research for which he has become fa-
mous, creating a representational and
computational foundation for reason-
ing with uncertain information.
you began your career in the 1960s at
rCa research laboratories. What were
you doing there?
I was doing something totally different than what I’m doing now: memory
systems. At that time, computers used
magnetic-core memories, which were
really clumsy. You had to string magnetic donuts with wires, and hundreds
of girls strung them one by one. People
realized that this was a bottleneck of
computers, so everyone was searching
for new mechanisms to store information. Some worked on new magnetic
how did you move to academia?
Eventually, everything was wiped
out by semiconductors, and people in
this arena had to find new jobs. Nothing came out of my Ph.D. dissertation except one piece of analysis that
physicists later named “Pearl vortex,”
surpassing my wildest dream for immortality. So, looking for another endeavor, I came to the UCLA computer
science department and offered my
expertise with memory systems. But
nothing was done in academia to utilize my experience on the hardware
side, so I looked for another challenging arena. And who doesn’t want to
emulate him- or herself?
you have said that computer scientists
are driven to the field out of a desire to
emulate and understand themselves.
It’s also why psychologists go into
psychology. But we are luckier because we have a mechanism that can
really do it. We have a machine that
can emulate, [ContInUed on p. 135]
PHoto Gra PHs by rICHard MorGensteIn