Nils Nilsson, pioneer of robotics and artificial intelligence, has died

Nils Nilsson, pioneer of robotics and artificial intelligence

Nils Nilsson was a professor and researcher in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Nils J. Nilsson, Kumagai Professor Emeritus of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University, passed away on April 23. He was 86 years old. Nilsson is considered a pioneer of robotics and artificial intelligence. I have also worked in the field of machine learning since the birth of that discipline.

He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1958 and served in the United States Air Force. Following his discharge in 1961, he held a position at the Stanford Research Institute. Nilsson worked for the next 23 years there, specializing in neural networks and statistical approaches to robotic problem solving. He ran the institute between 1980 and 1984.

A year later, thanks to his work in artificial intelligence, he was offered the position of chair of the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. Under his leadership the department ceased to depend on the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, and went on to the Faculty of Engineering. Nillson managed to give the department an international reputation and was a mentor to many great names in the discipline.

Why is he considered a pioneer of robotics and artificial intelligence

Between 1966 and 1972, Nilsson co-led the creation of an autonomous robot affectionately known as SHAKEY (Shaker), after the way the top-loaded robot shuddered as it moved on stops and starts.

Directed by a human operator typing instructions, Shakey pHe hates navigating a room full of large objects using various electrical sensors, a sonar rangefinder, and a built-in video camera. Shakey was communicating wirelessly with a state-of-the-art central computer. In 1969-70, SHAKEY sparked the interest of the New York Times, National Geographic, and Life. The press called him the "first electronic person."

Nillson helped design and write the algorithms that SHAKEY used to make decisions and plan the most efficient course; Stanford Research Institute Problem Solver (STRIPS) and A *. Derivatives of these algorithms are still used today.

He also had an outstanding performance as an author. Nilsson is the author or co-author of at least nine books, including The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Principles of Artificial Intelligence by Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. He was one of the co-founders of this last publisher. On the other hand, Nilsson also contributed chapters to numerous other books and published frequently in the scientific press.

In addition, he was a member of the editorial boards of Artificial Intelligence magazine and the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research and editor of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. On the other hand, he was president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). Nilsson was also elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering. The Swedes made him a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.


The industry also recognized him for his contributions. He was awarded the Neural-Network Pioneer Award from the IEEE, the Research Excellence Award from the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, and the Distinguished Service Award for his lifetime.

Nilsson earned the same respect as an engineer as he did as a teacher. John Mitchell, current chair of the Computer Science department recalled it like this:

Nils was a kind, thoughtful and inspiring person who helped shape the department in a formative time. He was an unusual support for the young teachers and always put our collective success above any personal recognition or reward. All of us who knew him will miss him very much.

So did Professor Emeritus Jean-Claude Latombe, former head of department and head of Stanford's Artificial Intelligence group:

“In the mid-70s, Nils invited me to his institute to work on my PhD. He became my de facto advisor and traveled to Grenoble only to be part of the evaluation committee for my thesis. Nobody had such a big impact on my professional life.

Nilsson retired in 1995



The content of the article adheres to our principles of editorial ethics. To report an error click here!.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.



  1. Responsible for the data: AB Internet Networks 2008 SL
  2. Purpose of the data: Control SPAM, comment management.
  3. Legitimation: Your consent
  4. Communication of the data: The data will not be communicated to third parties except by legal obligation.
  5. Data storage: Database hosted by Occentus Networks (EU)
  6. Rights: At any time you can limit, recover and delete your information.