Roger C. Schank, artificial intelligence theorist, dies at 76

Roger C. Schank, artificial intelligence theorist, dies at 76

Roger C. Schank, artificial intelligence theorist, dies at 76

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These shortcomings, computer scientists say, could open the door to a revival of ideas championed by Dr. Schank years ago. Adding facts about the physical world and structured reasoning, they say, could overcome the weaknesses of the new programs, called large language models.


“These models can do amazing things, but they have to be driven,” Kristian Hammond, an AI researcher at Northwestern University and a former student of Dr. Schank, said over the phone. “Roger Schank’s work now has the partner technology, in large language models, to become real.”

“I think that will eventually become part of his legacy,” Dr. Hammond said.

Roger Carl Schank was born on March 12, 1946 in Manhattan. His father, Maxwell, was an administrator at the New York State Liquor Authority. His mother, Margaret (Rosenberg) Schank, ran a decorative bead wholesale business.

Dr. Schank attended public schools in New York and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Texas.

After a stint as an assistant professor at Stanford University, Dr. Schank became a professor of computer science and psychology at Yale University in 1974. During his 15 years there, he served as president from the computer science department, became the director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project, and mentored dozens of students who became AI researchers at universities and companies, including the Georgia Institute of Technology and Google.

Dr. Schank was a prolific author; two of his books for the general public have been selected for the New York Times Book Review’s annual “Notable Books” list. “The Cognitive Computer: On Language, Learning, and Artificial Intelligence”, published in 1984 and written with Peter G. Childers, was described by Susan Chace in her Times review as a “clear, funny and intelligent” account of the issues involved in “trying to get computers to mimic human reasoning.” And psychologist Robert J. Sternberg called “Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory” (1990) “an impressive book” that shows “that we can better understand intelligence by examining the behavior of people in their daily lives than by giving these trivial test problems.

Dr. Schank’s “The Cognitive Computer” (1984), written with Peter G. Childers, was described by one reviewer as a “clear, funny, and clever” account of the problems with “trying to get computers to imitate the human reasoning.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Schank is survived by his daughter, Hana Schank; his son, Joshua Schank; and four grandchildren. His first marriage, to Diane (Levine) Schank, ended in divorce in 1998.


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