- Herbert A. Simon was an American scientist born in 1916.
- He is most famous for his work in the field of decision-making and psychology.
- Mr. Simon’s most popular book was entitled Human Problem Solving.
The expression “He was ahead of his time” is so overused that it’s almost cliché, but, in the case of Herbert A. Simon, it’s true. This Renaissance man was a social scientist, psychologist, professor of administration, and computer science. He won a Nobel Prize for his research into the decision-making process within economic organizations. And, as if that weren’t enough, is considered to be one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence!
Who Was Herbert A. Simon?
Herbert Simon was an American economist, computer scientist, social scientist, and cognitive psychologist whose primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theory of “bounded rationality” and the theory of “satisficing.” He applied psychology to statistics, operations, and decision-making scenarios to help define the process that people go through when formulating solutions to problems.
- Full Name
- Herbert A Simon
- APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology (1969)
- ACM’s Turing Award for making “basic contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, and list processing” (1975)
- Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations” (1978)
- National Medal of Science (1986); the APA’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1993)
- ACM fellow (1994)
- IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1995)
- Katherine, Peter, and Barbara
- Place of Birth
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Fields of Expertise
- [“Computer Science”,”Economics”,”Political Science”,”Cognitive Psychology”]
- Carnegie-Mellon University
- Bounded Rationality, Satisficing
Herbert Simon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 15th, 1916. He went to the Milwaukee public school system, where he focused on science. He then attended the University of Chicago in 1933, where he continued his study of social science and mathematics. Herbert Simon earned both his B.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.
Herbert Simon spent the majority of his career as a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent fifty years of his life, from 1949 through 2001, as a social scientist and professor of administration, psychology, and computer science.
What Is Herbert Simon Known For?
Herbert Simon is widely considered to be one of the pioneers and founding fathers of artificial intelligence (AI). He is famously quoted as saying the following in 1965, “[M]achines will be capable of doing any work a man can do.”
In 1956, Simon and Allen Newell, an American researcher in cognitive psychology and computer science, wrote Logic Theorist. This computer program was designed to perform automated reasoning and is considered to be the first artificial intelligence program. The program was able to prove 38 theorems from Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
Simon and Newell continued to collaborate and later founded one of the first AI laboratories at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. There, they developed a number of AI programs and concepts, including GPS, Soar (cognitive architecture), and the unified theory of cognition.
Bounded rationality is the theory that rationality is limited when people make decisions. There is an attention economy that limits the amount of focus someone has to spend on a particular situation. It is a human decision-making process in which we attempt to satisfice rather than optimize. In other words, we seek a decision that will be good enough rather than the best possible decision.
People tend to choose the first option that works based on their feelings and perceived facts. Perfectly logical and rational decision-making is not feasible due to constraints on time, information, and focus. This type of decision-making can save time which then allows for more decisions to be made in a shorter period of time, but regularly choosing the first option that’s just barely good enough can produce negative outcomes over time.
Herbert Simon coined the term “satisficing.” It is a combination of “satisfy” and “suffice.” It is a decision-making strategy linked to the bounded reality that involves searching through your various available options until you find a solution that meets your needs. It is rarely the best option, but as long as it satisfies the criteria of the situation in a sufficient enough way, then you no longer need to search for a solution.
Obviously, it would be advantageous to always find the best solution to every situation, but that’s not how the human mind works in decision-making theory. Satisficing is basically searching for the first solution that solves the problem adequately.
Herbert A. Simon: Marriage, Children, and Personal Life
Herbert Simon married Dorothea Pye in 1938. They remained married for the rest of Herbert’s life which ended in 2001.
Herbert Simon had three children with his wife, Dorothea. They were named Katherine, Peter, and Barbara.
Herbert A. Simon: Awards and Achievements
1978 Nobel Prize in Economics
Herbert Simon won his Nobel prize on October 16th, 1978, for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations.
1993 APA’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology
On August 20th, 1993, Herbert Simon was awarded the APA’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology due to his academic history and the facts of his research. Specifically, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics and made outstanding contributions to organizational theory, the cognitive character of the decision-making process, and the computer metaphor of rational thinking.
Herbert A. Simon’s Published Works and Books
Herbert Simon published several books and articles. His first book was titled “Administrative Behavior: a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization,” and his most popular book was called “Human Problem Solving.”
Administrative Behavior: a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization
Herbert Simon published “Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization” in 1947. It was largely based on his doctoral thesis.
- Written by Nobel Prize winning researcher Herbert Simon.
- Discusses the underlying philosophy in administration
- Covers decision-making, organizational loyalties and influence, administrative principles, and more
Human Problem Solving
Herbert Simon wrote “Human Problem Solving” with co-author Allen Newell in 1972. This book develops and defends the authors’ information processing theory of human reasoning. Human reasoners, they argue, can be modeled as symbolic “information processing systems” (IPSs), abstracted entirely from physiological bases.
- Provides in-depth information about the authors' information processing theory of human reasoning.
- Covers ideas on artificial intelligence (AI) to cognitive psychology.
- Explains the three symbolic reasoning tasks and how to analyze that data using their information processing paradigm
- Newell went on to co-develop Soar cognitive architecture and Simon received the Nobel Prize in Economics
- Jointly they received the Turing Award in 1975
Herbert A. Simon Quotes
A number of quotes are attributed to Herbert Simon. These quotes mostly cover his work in decision-making theory or mathematics.
- “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
- “Human beings, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves.”
- “Whereas economic man maximizes, selects the best alternative from among all those available to him, his cousin, administrative man, satisfices, looks for a course of action that is satisfactory or ‘good enough.”
- “Most of us really aren’t horribly unique. There are 6 billion of us. Put ’em all in one room, and very few would stand out as individuals. So maybe we should think of worth in terms of our ability to get along as a part of nature rather than being the lords over nature.”
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Richard Rappaport, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.