Steve Omohundro

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Steve Omohundro
Steve Omohundro
Steve Omohundro (2010)
Born1959 (1959)
EducationStanford University
University of California, Berkeley
Scientific career
FieldsArtificial Intelligence
InstitutionsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Possibility Research
Self-Aware Systems
ThesisGeometric Perturbation Theory and Plasma Physics (1985)

Stephen Malvern Omohundro (born 1959) is an American computer scientist[1] whose areas of research include Hamiltonian physics, dynamical systems, programming languages, machine learning, machine vision, and the social implications of artificial intelligence. His current work uses rational economics to develop safe and beneficial intelligent technologies for better collaborative modeling, understanding, innovation, and decision making.


Omohundro has degrees in physics and mathematics from Stanford University (Phi Beta Kappa)[2] and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley.[3]

Learning algorithms[edit]

Omohundro started the "Vision and Learning Group" at the University of Illinois, which produced 4 Masters and 2 Ph.D. theses. His work in learning algorithms included a number of efficient geometric algorithms,[4][5] the manifold learning task and various algorithms for accomplishing this task,[6] other related visual learning and modelling tasks,[7] the best-first model merging approach to machine learning[8] (including the learning of Hidden Markov Models and Stochastic Context-free Grammars),[9][10][11] and the Family Discovery Learning Algorithm, which discovers the dimension and structure of a parameterized family of stochastic models.[12]

Self-improving artificial intelligence and AI safety[edit]

Omohundro started Self-Aware Systems in Palo Alto, California to research the technology and social implications of self-improving artificial intelligence. He is an advisor to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute on artificial intelligence. He argues that rational systems exhibit problematic natural "drives" that will need to be countered in order to build intelligent systems safely.[2][13] His papers, talks, and videos on AI safety have generated extensive interest.[1][14][15][16] He has given many talks on self-improving artificial intelligence, cooperative technology, AI safety, and connections with biological intelligence.

Programming languages[edit]

At Thinking Machines Corporation, Cliff Lasser and Steve Omohundro developed Star Lisp, the first programming language for the Connection Machine. Omohundro joined the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) in Berkeley, California, where he led the development of the open source programming language Sather.[17][18] Sather is featured in O'Reilly's History of Programming Languages poster.[19]

Physics and dynamical systems theory[edit]

Omohundro's book Geometric Perturbation Theory in Physics[2][20] describes natural Hamiltonian symplectic structures for a wide range of physical models that arise from perturbation theory analyses.

He showed that there exist smooth partial differential equations which stably perform universal computation by simulating arbitrary cellular automata.[21] The asymptotic behavior of these PDEs is therefore logically undecidable.

With John David Crawford he showed that the orbits of three-dimensional period doubling systems can form an infinite number of topologically distinct torus knots and described the structure of their stable and unstable manifolds.[22]

Mathematica and Apple tablet contest[edit]

From 1986 to 1988, he was an Assistant Professor of Computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and cofounded the Center for Complex Systems Research with Stephen Wolfram and Norman Packard. While at the University of Illinois, he worked with Stephen Wolfram and five others to create the symbolic mathematics program Mathematica.[2] He and Wolfram led a team of students that won an Apple Computer contest to design "The Computer of the Year 2000." Their design entry "Tablet" was a touchscreen tablet with GPS and other features that finally appeared when the Apple iPad was introduced 22 years later.[23][24]

Other contributions[edit]

Subutai Ahmad and Steve Omohundro developed biologically realistic neural models of selective attention.[25][26][27][28] As a research scientist at the NEC Research Institute, Omohundro worked on machine learning and computer vision, and was a co-inventor of U.S. Patent 5,696,964, "Multimedia Database Retrieval System Which Maintains a Posterior Probability Distribution that Each Item in the Database is a Target of a Search."[29][30][31][32]

Pirate puzzle[edit]

Omohundro developed an extension to the game theoretic pirate puzzle featured in Scientific American.[33]


Omohundro has sat on the Machine Intelligence Research Institute board of advisors.[34] He has written extensively on artificial intelligence,[35] and has warned that "an autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place" because "military and economic pressures are driving the rapid development of autonomous systems".[36][37]


  1. ^ a b Rathi, Akshat (9 October 2015). "Stephen Hawking: Robots aren't just taking our jobs, they're making society more unequal". Quartz. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Barrat, James (1 February 2014). "This is What Happens When You Teach Machines the Power of Natural Selection". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  3. ^ "Biography". Steve Omohundro. 10 August 2011. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  4. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, “Geometric Learning Algorithms” Physica D, 42 (1990) 307-321
  5. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro. Emergent Computation, edited by Stephanie Forrest, MIT Press (1991) 307-321
  6. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, "Fundamentals of Geometric Learning". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Computer Science Technical Report UILU-ENG-88-1713 (February 1988).
  7. ^ Chris Bregler, Stephen M. Omohundro, and Yochai Konig, “A Hybrid Approach to Bimodal Speech Recognition“, Proceedings of the 28th Annual Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers, Pacific Grove, California, November 1994.
  8. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, “Best-First Model Merging for Dynamic Learning and Recognition” in Moody, J. E., Hanson, S. J., and Lippmann, R. P., (eds.) Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 4, pp. 958-965, San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, (1992).
  9. ^ Andreas Stolcke and Stephen M. Omohundro, “Hidden Markov Model Induction by Bayesian Model Merging“, in Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 5, ed. Steve J. Hanson and Jack D. Cowan, J. D. and C. Lee Giles, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc., San Mateo, California, 1993, pp. 11-18.
  10. ^ Andreas Stolcke and Stephen M. Omohundro, “Best-first Model Merging for Hidden Markov Model Induction“, ICSI Technical ReportTR-94-003, January 1994.
  11. ^ Andreas Stolcke and Stephen M. Omohundro, "Inducing Probabilistic Grammars by Bayesian Model Merging Archived 2016-03-10 at the Wayback Machine", Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Grammatical Inference, Alicante, Spain, Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 862, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, September 1994, pp. 106-118.
  12. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, “Family Discovery“, in Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 8, eds. D. S. Touretzky, M. C. Mozer and M. E. Hasselmo, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996.
  13. ^ Marcus, Gary (24 October 2013). "Why We Should Think About the Threat of Artificial Intelligence". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Is Skynet Inevitable?". 31 March 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  15. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, "The Nature of Self-Improving Artificial Intelligence" Singularity Summit 2007, San Francisco, CA
  16. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, "The Basic AI Drives", in the Proceedings of the First AGI Conference, Volume 171, Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications, edited by P. Wang, B. Goertzel, and S. Franklin, February 2008, IOS Press.
  17. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, "[Sather Provides Nonproprietary Access to Object-Oriented Programming]", Computers in Physics, Vol.6, No. 5, September, 1992, p. 444-449.
  18. ^ Heinz Schmidt and Stephen M. Omohundro, "CLOS, Eiffel, and Sather: A Comparison", in Object-Oriented Programming: The CLOS Perspective, ed. Andreas Paepcke, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993, pp. 181-213.
  19. ^ O'Reilly's History of Programming Languages poster
  20. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, Geometric Perturbation Theory in Physics, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., Singapore (1986) 560 pages. ISBN 9971-5-0136-8
  21. ^ Stephen M. Omohundro, "Modelling Cellular Automata with Partial Differential Equations", Physica D, 10D (1984) 128-134.
  22. ^ John David Crawford and Stephen M. Omohundro, "On the Global Structure of Period Doubling Flows", Physica D, 12D (1984), pp. 161-180.
  23. ^ Bartlett Mel, Stephen Omohundro, Arch Robison, Steven Skiena, Kurt Thearling, Luke Young, and Stephen Wolfram, “Tablet: Personal Computer in the Year 2000?, Communications of the ACM, 31:6 (1988) 638-646.
  24. ^ Bartlett Mel, Stephen Omohundro, Arch Robison, Steven Skiena, Kurt Thearling, Luke Young, and Stephen Wolfram, “Academic Computing in the Year 2000?, Academic Computing, 2:7 (1988) 7-62.
  25. ^ Subutai Ahmad and Stephen M. Omohundro, “Equilateral Triangles: A Challenge for Connectionist Vision“, Proceedings of the 12th Annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, MIT, (1990).
  26. ^ Subutai Ahmad and Stephen M. Omohundro, “A Network for Extracting the Locations of Point Clusters Using Selective Attention“, ICSI Technical Report No. TR-90-011, (1990).
  27. ^ Subutai Ahmad and Stephen M. Omohundro, “Efficient Visual Search: A Connectionist Solution“, Proceedings of the 13th Annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Chicago, (1991).
  28. ^ Bartlett Mel and Stephen M. Omohundro, “How Receptive Field Parameters Affect Neural Learning” in Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 3, edited by Lippmann, Moody, and Touretzky, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc. (1991) 757-766.
  29. ^ U.S. patent 5,696,964
  30. ^ I. J. Cox, M. L. Miller, S. M. Omohundro, and P. N. Yianilos, "Target Testing and the PicHunter Bayesian Multimedia Retrieval System", in the Proceedings of the 3rd Forum on Research and Technology Advances in Digital Libraries, DL’96, 1996, pp. 66-75.
  31. ^ U.S. Patent 5,696,964, “Multimedia Database Retrieval System Which Maintains a Posterior Probability Distribution That Each Item in the Database is a Target of a Search“, Ingemar J. Cox, Matthew L. Miller, Stephen M. Omohundro, and P. N. Yianilos, granted December 9, 1997, assigned to NEC Research Institute, Inc.
  32. ^ T. P. Minka, M. L. Miller, I. J. Cox, P. N. Yianilos, S. M. Omohundro, “Toward Optimal Search of Image Databases“, in Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, 1998.
  33. ^ Ian Stewart, "A Puzzle for Pirates", Mathematical Recreations, Scientific American, May 1999, pp. 98-99
  34. ^ Mark O'Connell (2017). To Be a Machine. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 9780385540421.
  35. ^ Neyfakh, Leon (1 March 2013). "Should we put robots on trial?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  36. ^ Markoff, John (11 November 2014). "Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  37. ^ "Inside the Pentagon's Effort to Build a Killer Robot". Time Magazine. 27 October 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2018.

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