“Over Christmas, Allen Newell and I created a thinking machine.”

Herbert A. Simon (1956)

My current book project asks: how should we regard the relationship between the humanities and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI)? Most researchers in literary studies that examine AI do so by analyzing texts created by machines or by studying AI’s representation in fiction. However, what has been less examined is how reading literature has influenced the scientists who invented such technologies.

In the book, I show how the humanities, especially literature, played an influential role in the life and work of one of the founders of symbolic AI, Herbert A. Simon (b. 1916 – d. 2001). To do so, I leverage a novel archive of Simon’s complete papers totaling about 37,000 documents, then compare them to texts from his home and office libraries using computational and information technology approaches for studying cultures. Thus the project seeks to magnify models visible in Simon’s scientific and technical work and translate them back into their literary, philosophical, and historical source texts.

Herbert A. Simon in his office at Carnegie Mellon University. (Photo by Clyde Hare, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Libraries).

At the same time, the book seeks to open the “black box” surrounding the theories and software artifacts of early AI research such as the Logic Theorist (1956) and General Problem Solver (1959) to understand better how humanities knowledge played an essential part in their formation.