Alumni Hall of Fame 2013
From the time that Adam Cheyer came to SRI from UCLA as a young computer scientist in 1993, he became an important contributor and creator of interesting new formulations. Working in the Artificial Intelligence Center (AIC), he began to conceive ways to improve our interaction with computers and to unite the various components of artificial intelligence. The modes of human-computer interaction were increasing, and SRI had more than its share in hand: speech recognition, natural language understanding, the mouse, virtual reality, pen computing, text-to-speech, and higher-level applications such as email, scheduling systems, and distributed databases. In a brilliant initiative, Adam brought organization to all these in a structure called Open Agent Architecture (OAA).
Through an approach Adam branded “Delegated Computing,” users could input a task request in a variety of ways and then independent agents organized in a community would both collaborate and vie for selection to produce the best response. This environment produced more than 50 demonstration systems, such as a smart refrigerator, a speech-enabled TV, and collaborative robotics. It also planted the seed for a world-famous breakthrough in virtual personal assistance.
After leaving SRI in 1999 to try out some of his ideas in the commercial world, he returned to the AIC in 2003 for its largest project ever, a DARPA initiative called CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) that would involve virtually every AI research center in the United States. CALO was directed toward creating systems that could “learn in the wild,” adapting to become ever more efficient at aiding users in accomplishing everyday tasks.
Four years later, Adam co-founded an SRI spin-off company called Siri, which launched the first popular “conversational assistant” iPhone app. When Steve Jobs convinced the team he believed in the long-term vision of the technology, the founders agreed to sell the company to Apple. Because SRI owned a significant interest in Siri, it was able to share in the sizable financial outcome of this transaction. Siri now lives in iPhones and iPads everywhere and is a watershed achievement in human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence.
Adam also has found the time to help start two other companies. Change.org has a community of more than 40 million active users who are driving change by raising awareness of injustices around the world. Genetic Finance, with more than 1.3 million computers, is applying machine learning on a massive scale to solve problems in finance, medical applications, and genomics.
Don joined the Molecular Physics Laboratory (MPL) in 1959, only three years after it was founded by his graduate school colleague Charlie Cook, and he played a key role in the scientific achievements of the lab for the next 35 years and beyond. His training in interactions of low-energy electrons and ions with atoms and molecules fit well with the research activities of Charlie, Jim Peterson, and Felix Smith, and between them they soon built the lab into a group with an international reputation.
Don provided stalwart leadership during this period, including spending 10 years as director of the MPL. The lab grew to a peak of 60 members during his tenure; it attracted outstanding scientists from the United States and abroad to visiting scientist and postdoctoral positions, attracted university faculty to spend their sabbaticals here, and sent seven of its senior staff members out to university professorships.
Don’s scientific research encompassed extensive and ongoing work in experimental and theoretical atomic and molecular physics, including electron-atom and ion-atom collisions. In 1972, he demonstrated a unique example of the practical benefits of basic research when he used his experience with scattering experiments on He2+ and Ar2+ to formulate the excitation mechanism for production of excited states in dense rare gases, which is the basis for the newly discovered rare-gas excimer lasers that were of great importance in the era of the Strategic Defense Initiative.
This led to an extensive laser development and application program that was a major part of MPL’s activity for the next 10 years. Later, Don led a program to produce, characterize, and use carbon fullerene molecular clusters and their derivatives. This work carried on well into his partial retirement years. Don was named an SRI Fellow in 1985 in recognition of his work in high energy laser development. He should also be recognized, along with Charlie Cook, as a founding member of SRI’s Institooters band.