AI News, Nils Nilsson, pioneer in robotics and artificial intelligence, dies at 86

Nils Nilsson, pioneer in robotics and artificial intelligence, dies at 86

Nilsson is best known for his foundational work in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning dating to the earliest days of the fields.

It was unusual that an outsider would be brought in as chair of a department, but Nilsson was well known as a lecturer and intellectual force in artificial intelligence.

No one had such a great impact on my professional life.” Between 1966 and 1972, Nilsson co-directed the creation of an autonomous robot known affectionately as SHAKEY, after the way the top-heavy robot would shudder as made its way about in stops and starts.

Directed by a human operator typing in instructions, SHAKEY could negotiate its way around a room filled with large objects using various electrical sensors, a sonar range-finder and an integrated video camera, all the while communicating wirelessly with a state-of-the-art mainframe computer.

In 1969-70, SHAKEY garnered a certain media celebrity after profiles appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic and Life, which referred to SHAKEY as the “first electronic person.” Nilsson was noted for helping to design and write the algorithms that helped SHAKEY make decisions and plan the most efficient course, Stanford Research Institute Problem Solver (STRIPS) and A*.

“Nils was a kind, thoughtful, inspiring person who helped shape the department in a formative era,” remembers John Mitchell, a fellow professor of computer science and current department chair.

All of us who knew him will sorely miss him.” Nils John Nilsson, the oldest of five sons to Walter and Pauline Nilsson, was born Feb. 6, 1933, in Saginaw, Michigan, where he lived until age 11 when his family relocated to Southern California.