HomeTechNewsPamela McCorduck, Historian of Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 80

Pamela McCorduck, Historian of Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 80


“She’d say, ‘I wrote this chapter, can you can read it?’” said Dr. Reddy, who is now university professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon (and who, like Professors Feigenbaum and Simon, is a winner of the A.M. Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of computing). “She was interacting with all the movers and shakers of A.I. She was in the middle of it, an eyewitness to history.”

Ms. McCorduck moved to Columbia, where she taught creative writing, when Professor Traub was appointed the founding chairman of the university’s computer science department in 1979.

She continued to write; among her later books were “The Universal Machine” (1985), about the impact of computers on art, science, education and medicine; “The Rise of the Expert Company” (1988), an exploration of how companies used artificial intelligence, written with Professor Feigenbaum and Penny Nii; and “Aaron’s Code” (1990), about Harold Cohen, an abstract painter who developed a complex software program to generate works of art.

She also published two more novels, “The Edge of Chaos” in 2007 and “Bounded Rationality” in 2012.

In addition to her sister, she is survived by her brother, John, and her stepdaughters, Claudia Traub and Hillary Spector. Professor Traub died in 2015.

Ms. McCorduck had regrets about not recognizing the possibility that artificial intelligence could be misused. She voiced those regrets in “This Could Be Important,” her final book.

“A thread in my book is how naïve I was — we all were — in the early days when it seemed as if more intelligence could only be like more virtue,” she told insideBigData, a website devoted to news about A.I., machine learning and data science, in 2020. “I’m especially disappointed with myself. I was a student of the humanities. How could I not have imagined that more intelligence would bring along all the usual misbehavior humans are capable of?”

She was especially concerned with facial recognition systems, which she called “a blundering tool in the hands of governments,” adding: “It will still be blundering when it improves technically. That’s really a political, not a technological problem.”



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