Home

 › 

People

 › 

Herbert A. Simon — Complete Biography

Herbert A Simon - detail from Family Portrait 2 1965

Herbert A. Simon — Complete Biography

Key Points

  • 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 A. Simon was an American scientist who was best known for his research in decision-making.

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.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Herbert A Simon
Awards
  • 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)
Children
Katherine, Peter, and Barbara
Nationality
American
Place of Birth
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Fields of Expertise
[“Computer Science”,”Economics”,”Political Science”,”Cognitive Psychology”]
Institutions
Carnegie-Mellon University
Contributions
Bounded Rationality, Satisficing

Early Life

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.

Career

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?

Artificial Intelligence

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

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.

Satisficing

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

Marriage

Herbert Simon married Dorothea Pye in 1938. They remained married for the rest of Herbert’s life which ended in 2001.

Children

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
This chart illustrates Simon’s three stages to decision-making.

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.

Best for Decision-Making Processes
Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization
$8.39
  • 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
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 04:42 pm GMT

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.

Best About Human Reasoning
Human Problem Solving
$59.95
  • 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
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 04:42 pm GMT

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.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Herbert A. Simon?

Herbert A. 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 theories of “bounded rationality” and “satisficing”.

What is the Herbert A Simon approach?

Herbert Simon’s approach to decision-making recognized multiple factors to the process rather than the classic model which only looked at problem-solving economically. Herbert Simon had three stages of rational decision-making. The first step is intelligence gathering. The person making the decision is to search the environment for a condition that is calling for a decision. The second stage is to design possible courses of action. The decision-maker needs to invent, develop, and analyze these options. The third and final step is to choose one of these options. Economically, it would be best to look at all possible alternatives and then choose the best option. Administratively, the first functional solution is selected. The motivation of the decision to pick the first viable solution is more complex than simply finding the best option for any decision. Finding the best option spends time and attention to resources that are scarce. If the importance of the decision is high enough then more resources will be allocated to that choice, but most decisions do not meet that threshold. The more mundane the decision, the more likely someone is to select the first reasonable alternative. They are also more likely to rely on feeling than on facts, statistics, or logical decision-making operations.

What is Herbert A Simon known for?

Herbert Simon is known for his contribution to the fields of economics, social sciences, statistics, operations, mathematics, and psychology. He has several books and articles published to support his theories and facts.

What did Herbert Simon contribute to psychology?

Herbert Simon focused on decision-making theory. He used psychology to understand the limited attention economy people have when making decisions. The attention economy is in reference to the amount of focus any person is willing to extend on a particular task.

Did Herbert Simon win the Nobel Prize?

Herbert Simon won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations”.

To top