Professional History

John E. Laird was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 16, 1954. He currently lives Ann Arbor, married to Ann Alpern. They have three daughters: Emily, Jessica, and Valerie.

John Laird attended the University of Michigan where he majored in Computer and Communications Sciences in the college of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts (LSA). After graduating in 1975, he worked at Burroughs Corp. for a year in Plymouth, MI. At Burroughs, he worked on the compiler for the S1000 check sorting system. Although he enjoyed working at Burroughs, it convinced him to go to graduate school and he entered the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 1976.

From 1976 to 1984, John Laird was a graduate student. Throughout his graduate career, he had the great pleasure to work with and learn from Allen Newell. One of the giants of AI, and a great person, Allen Newell was critical to John’s success as a graduate student and beyond. While at Carnegie Mellon, John met Paul Rosenbloom, who shared John’s goal of exploring the architecture underlying the mind. They both joined the Instructable Production System project, whose goal was to build very large production (rule-based) systems through instruction. That project failed, but from it, both Paul and John learned a lot about building AI architectures. John picked up on a collection ideas from Allen Newell on alternative approaches to organizing rule-based systems in terms of problem spaces, which in turn led to John’s research on Soar, the universal weak method, and universal subgoaling.

John defended his thesis on Dec. 7, 1983 (a memorable day still), and stayed on until the summer of 1984 as a research associate at CMU. During that six months, he worked with Paul Rosenbloom and Allen Newell on integrating learning in Soar (based on Paul Rosenbloom’s thesis work on chunking) and the development or R1-Soar, a reimplementation of the R1 expert system in Soar. At this time, the three of them agreed to dedicate their immediate future research to the development and application of Soar. John Laird has been at this ever since.

In the summer of 1984, John and Ann moved out to Palo Alto, CA, where Ann had a two-year fellowship in pathology at Stanford Hospital. John was fortunate enough to get a position at Xerox PARC in the Intelligent Systems Laboratory, directed by John Seeley Brown. John Laird continued to work on Soar, although he also interacted significantly with Kurt Van Lehn.

In 1986, John joined the faculty of the recently formed Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of Michigan. Since 1986, John has continued to do research on the architecture of the mind, continuing to develop and evolve the Soar architecture and apply it to new and ever more challenging domains. In 1998 he helped found Soar Technology, Inc. From 1994-1999, John was the director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. From 2000-2004, he served as Associate Chair of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Computer Science and Engineering Division. He continues to lead the development of Soar. He is a fellow of AAAI, ACM, AAAS, and the Cognitive Science Society.