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Biographies: Eloge: Arthur Lee Samuel (1901-1990) Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129759D
Original Publication Date: 1992-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 24 page(s) / 97K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Eric A. Weiss: AUTHOR [+2]


P. O. Box 537 Kailua, HI 96734 USA

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 4% of the total text.

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Copyright ©; 1992 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Biographies: Eloge: Arthur Lee Samuel (1901-1990)

Eric A. Weiss

P. O. Box 537 Kailua, HI 96734 USA

Arthur Lee Samuel had a rich, full, and diverse career that started in the electrical engineering era of vacuum tubes and radio and moved quite logically into the computing world, first of tubes and then of transistors, microchips, word processing, and artificial intelligence. The most significant of his many pioneering contributions to computing and artificial intelligence was the Samuel Checker Playing Program, accepted today as the world's first self-learning computer program. Samuel himself did not consider this to be his most important professional contribution, saying that it merely got the most publicity.

At his death, on July 29, 1990, Samuel left, with his two daughters, an unpublished and unfortunately unfinished, but remarkably well written and detailed, autobiography titled A Boy from Emporia It is chiefly from this 180-page typescript that I have, with his daughters' permission, drawn this eloge which describes an energetic, jovial, but occasionally cantankerous and often skeptical scientist I have tested some parts of what I have written with the persons named and included their comments where appropriate. In a few instances these disagree with Samuel's recollections, particularly in regard to some IBM organizational matters. This may be because his work was clearly more important to him, and thus better remembered, than the details of IBM's often changed administrative structure. The disagreements themselves illustrate, in a minor way, the historian's problem of distilling what actually happened out of conflicting recollections and records. In this case the differences are slight and in no way reflect discredit on Samuel or his contributions to computing.

Otherwise unidentified quotations in the following material are from A Boy from Emporia.

Early life and education (1901-1928).

Samuel was born on December 5. 1901, in Emporia, Kansas, the first child of a schoolteacher and a journeyman tailor turned furniture store proprietor. He could read, write, and figure before he started school and, having been forced out of his natural left-handedness, developed atrocious handwriting which he retained all his life. As a boy he experimented with photography, rigged telephone lines to friends' houses, and built a crystal radio receiver. At the age of 9, for reasons he could not later recall, he determined to become an electrical engineer.

In 1919 he entered the College of Emporia, which he described as "a small struggling Presbyterian school...which no longer exists." His college career, which he completed in three and a half years and into which he jammed all the mathematics, physics, and chemistry he could, was so successful that his professors wanted him t...