Oliver Selfridge

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Oliver Selfridge at BBN, March 2008

Oliver Gordon Selfridge (10 May 1926 – 3 December 2008) was a pioneer of artificial intelligence.[1] He has been called the "Father of Machine Perception." [2]


Selfridge, born in England, was a grandson of Harry Gordon Selfridge,[1] the founder of Selfridges department stores. His father was Harry Gordon Selfridge Jr. and his mother was a clerk at Selfridge's store. His parents had met, fallen in love, married and had children all in secret, and Oliver never met his grandfather, Harry Sr. He was educated at Malvern College, and, upon moving to the U.S.A., at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, before earning an S.B. from MIT in mathematics in 1945. He then became a graduate student of Norbert Wiener's at MIT, but did not write up his doctoral research and never earned a Ph.D.

Marvin Minsky considered Selfridge to be one of his mentors [3], and, Selfridge was one of the 11 attendees, with Marvin Minsky, of the Dartmouth workshop that is considered to be the founding event of artificial intelligence as a field.

Selfridge wrote important early papers on neural networks and pattern recognition and machine learning, and his "Pandemonium" paper (1959) is generally recognized as a classic in artificial intelligence. In it, Selfridge introduced the notion of "demons" that record events as they occur, recognize patterns in those events, and may trigger subsequent events according to patterns they recognize. Over time, this idea gave rise to aspect-oriented programming.

In 1968, in their formative paper "The Computer as a Communication Device", J. C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor introduced a concept known as an OLIVER (Online Interactive Expediter and Responder), which was named in honor of Selfridge.[4]

Selfridge spent his career at Lincoln Laboratory, MIT (where he was Associate Director of Project MAC), Bolt, Beranek and Newman, and GTE Laboratories where he became Chief Scientist. He served on the NSA Advisory Board for 20 years, chairing the Data Processing Panel. Selfridge retired in 1993.[5]

In 2015, Duncan Campbell identified Selfridge as his "best source" for Campbell's 1980 reporting on US National Security Agency wiretapping activity at Menwith Hill, UK.[6] Campbell described this operation in New Statesman as a "billion dollar phone tap".[7]

Selfridge also authored four children's books: Sticks, Fingers Come In Fives, All About Mud, and Trouble With Dragons.[8]

Selfridge was married and divorced twice and is survived by two daughters and two sons. All four of his children obtained doctorates[9].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Markoff, John (3 December 2008). "Oliver Selfridge, an Early Innovator in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
  2. ^ Spark, Andrew (16 December 2008). "Oliver Selfridge Computer scientist paving the way for artificial intelligence". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Personal page for Marvin Minsky". web.media.mit.edu. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  4. ^ Licklider, J.C.R (7 August 1990). "In Memoriam: J. C. R. Licklider" (PDF). Stanford University. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  5. ^ "Oliver Selfridge". 22 December 2008. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  6. ^ Duncan Campbell (3 August 2015), GCHQ and Me, My Life Unmasking British Eavesdroppers, The Intercept
  7. ^ America's big ear on Europe (PDF), New Statesman, 18 July 1980, pp. 10–14
  8. ^ Markoff, John (3 December 2008). "Oliver Selfridge, an Early Innovator in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 82". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  9. ^ "Oliver Selfridge". 22 December 2008. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 8 September 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • O. G. Selfridge. "Pandemonium: A paradigm for learning." In D. V. Blake and A. M. Uttley, editors, Proceedings of the Symposium on Mechanisation of Thought Processes, pages 511–529, London, 1959.