Nils John Nilsson

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Nils John Nilsson (February 6, 1933 – April 23, 2019) was an American computer scientist. He was one of the founding researchers in the discipline of artificial intelligence.[2] He was the first Kumagai Professor of Engineering in computer science at Stanford University from 1991 until his retirement. He is particularly known for his contributions to search, planning, knowledge representation, and robotics.[2]

Nils John Nilsson
Nils John Nilsson.jpg
Nilsson in 2017
Born(1933-02-06)February 6, 1933
DiedApril 23, 2019(2019-04-23) (aged 86)
Alma materStanford University
Scientific career
FieldsArtificial intelligence
InstitutionsSRI International
Stanford University
Doctoral advisorWillis Harman[1]
Doctoral studentsLeslie P. Kaelbling[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Nilsson was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1933.[2] He received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1958, and spent much of his career at SRI International, a private research lab spun off from Stanford.[2][3]

Nilsson served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force from 1958 to 1961; he was stationed at the Rome Air Development Center in Rome, New York.[2][3]


SRI InternationalEdit

Starting in 1966, Nilsson, along with Charles A. Rosen and Bertram Raphael, led a research team in the construction of Shakey, a robot that constructed a model of its environment from sensor data, reasoned about that environment to arrive at a plan of action, then carried that plan out by sending commands to its motors.[2][3] This paradigm has been enormously influential in AI.[2][3] Textbooks such as (Charniak & McDermott 1985), (Ginsberg 1993) and the first edition of (Russell & Norvig 1992) show this influence in almost every chapter.[2][3] Although the basic idea of using logical reasoning to decide on actions is due to John McCarthy (McCarthy), Nilsson's group was the first to embody it in a complete agent, along the way inventing the A* search algorithm (Hart, Nilsson & Raphael 1968) and founding the field of automated temporal planning.[2][3] In the latter pursuit, they invented the STRIPS planner (Fikes & Nilsson 1971), whose action representation is still the basis of many of today's planning algorithms. The subfield of automated temporal planning called classical planning is based on most of the assumptions built into STRIPS.[2][3]

Stanford UniversityEdit

In 1985, Nilsson became a faculty member at Stanford University, in the Computer Science Department.[3] He was chair of the department from 1985 to 1990.[3] He was the Kumagai Professor of Engineering from the foundation of the Chair in around 1991[4] until his retirement, and remained Kumagai Professor Emeritus until his death.[3]

He was the fourth President of the AAAI (1982–83) and a Founding Fellow of that organization.[3] Nilsson wrote or coauthored several books on AI, including two that have been especially widely read (Nilsson 1980, Genesereth & Nilsson 1987).[2][3]

Awards and membershipsEdit

In 2011, Nilsson was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame for the "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems".[3][5][6]

Personal lifeEdit

On July 19, 1958, Nilsson married Karen Braucht, with whom he had two children.[2][3] Braucht died in 1991.[2][3] In 1992 he married Grace Abbott, who had four children from a previous marriage.[2][3]

Nilsson died on April 23, 2019, at his home in Medford, Oregon, at the age of 86.[2][3]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Logical Foundations of Artificial Intelligence (1976), Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-1-493-30598-8. (with Michael Genesereth)
  • Principles of Artificial Intelligence (1982), Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-540-11340-9.
  • The Mathematical Foundations of Learning Machines (1990), Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-1-558-60123-9.
  • Artificial Intelligence: A New Synthesis (1998), Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-1-558-60467-4.
  • The Quest for Artificial Intelligence (2009), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-11639-8.
  • Understanding Beliefs (2014), MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-52643-2.


  1. ^ a b "Nils J. Nilsson". Mathematics Genealogy Project. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Markoff, John (April 25, 2019). "Nils Nilsson, 86, dies; scientist helped robots find their way". The New York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Myers, Andrew (April 24, 2019). "Nils Nilsson, pioneer in robotics and artificial intelligence, dies at 86". Archived from the original on April 26, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  4. ^ "Thoughts on Becoming the First Kumagai Professor of Engineering" (PDF). Stanford University. 18 March 1991. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  5. ^ "AI's Hall of Fame". IEEE Intelligent Systems. 26 (4): 5–15. 2011. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.64.
  6. ^ "IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders". August 24, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011. Press release source: PRWeb (Vocus).

Further readingEdit

  • Charniak, Eugene; McDermott, Drew (1985), Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley
  • Fikes, Richard; Nilsson, Nils (1971), "STRIPS: A new approach to the application of theorem proving to problem solving", Artificial Intelligence, 2 (3–4): 189–208, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1016/0004-3702(71)90010-5
  • Ginsberg, Matthew (1993), Essentials of Artificial Intelligence, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc.
  • McCarthy, John (1968) [1960], M. Minsky (ed.), "Programs with common sense", Proceedings of the Teddington Conference on the Mechanization of Thought Processes, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, pp. 403–418
  • Russell, Stuart; Norvig, Peter (1992), Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (1st ed.), Prentice Hall

External linksEdit