Allen Newell

Allen Newell (b. San Francisco 1927-d. Pittsburgh 1992) received his B.S. in Physics from Stanford University in 1949.  He pursued graduate work in Mathematics at Princeton, studying under mathematician George Polya, who introduced Newell to the study of heuristics, or use of selective search patterns in problem solving.  Finding both mathematics and the new trend in game theory not suited to his taste in "experimental and theoretical research" aimed toward "understanding the nature of mind," Newell took leave from Princeton to work for the RAND Corporation "think tank" as a research scientist from 1950-1961.

At RAND, Newell became part of an environment that encouraged polymathic thinking and research interests that crossed disciplinary boundaries.  There he met consultant Herbert A. Simon, the organizational theorist and future Nobel laureate in Economics, who was also interested in the studying information processing as a way to understand human decision-making.  The Newell-Simon partnership grew into what Newell later called a "highly personal and direct relationship" of scientific interests.  RAND employed the pair on a project in U.S. Air Force defense logistics with systems programmer J.C. "Cliff" Shaw. Their collaborative simulations of radar screen information mimicking enemy attack at diverse locations studied the organizational processes of Air Force early warning teams and improved their capabilities.  Done on pre-electronic computers, this was among the first efforts to create a symbol-processing artificial intelligence (AI).

Newell’s long research association with Simon continued when Simon encouraged him to earn his doctorate in Industrial Administration (1957) at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT) where Simon taught.  While working in Pittsburgh, Newell remained a research scientist on the payroll of California-headquartered RAND until his 1961 appointment as a CIT professor.  Communicating with Cliff Shaw and RAND’s Johnniac computer via an early, semi-automated phone-line computer network, the NSS (Newell-Simon-Shaw) team developed a chess-playing program designed not to win games but to foster understanding of the analytical processes of human players.  Now equipped with electronic computers, the NSS team seized the opportunity to use the computer as a general processor for symbols rather than as a mere arithmetic calculator.

The Carnegie-RAND group also invented the LT (or LTM), a logic theory machine that solved non-numerical problems by selective search. The LT depended on Newell and Shaw’s creation of a series of list-processing languages. To test the LT machine via human cognitive research, Newell ran subjects through problem-solving tasks designed by O.K. Moore at Yale University (1954) to see how closely the computer simulations paralleled human behavior. Finding that humans preferred a means-to-end form of analysis not factored into LT design, the NSS team devised a means-end analyzer, the General Problem Solver (GPS), which provided the basis for most of the AI programs of the next decade.

As a member of the CIT and later Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) community, Newell—along with Simon and Alan J. Perlis—was instrumental in the creation of the university’s first Computer Science degree program in 1961, and the establishment of its Computer Science Department in 1965. Newell’s research and growing reputation were key in attracting and renewing National Institute of Mental Health grants for cognitive science research in the Psychology Department.  His work also attracted Department of Defense grants (through its ARPA research arm) to support the university’s burgeoning cognitive science-artificial intelligence nexus. Of the many ARPA projects worked on by Newell was ZOG project, a human-computer interface for the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. Encouraged by his experiences with the ARPANET, Newell served as president of CMU’s Task Force on the Future of Computing that recommended and helped design the Andrew system, an IBM-CMU cooperation that was one of the country’s first campus-wide computer networks.


Newell teaching at a chalkboard. The board has the following equation written on it: "Send + More = Money" .
Allen Newell teaching, circa 1970


"Choose a final project to outlast you" was one of Newell’s maxims for scientists. For Newell, that project was Soar (State, Operator and Result theory), an artificial intelligence system created with an eye toward application as a theory of human cognition.  In what he described as "GPS done right," Newell synthesized 30 years’ worth of research on the nature of AI and human cognition into a program that integrated the critical symbolic processing stage of human decision-making into its operations. In his 1987 William James Lectures at Harvard University and in the 1990 book Unified Theories of Cognition, Newell highlighted Soar as an exemplar of the sought-after unified theory of human thought processes.

Newell authored or co-authored more than 250 publications, among them 10 books including Human Problem Solving with Herbert A. Simon (1972).  A researcher at heart, Newell accepted the first presidency of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in 1980 an honor he especially treasured.  He was elected to the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering in 1972, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980.  The University of Pennsylvania and Groningen University, Netherlands, awarded him honorary doctorates.  Other honors included: the Harry Goode Award of the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (1971); a Guggenheim fellowship (1967); the A.M. Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery (jointly with Herbert Simon, 1975); the Alexander C. Williams, Jr. Award of the Human Factors Society (co-recipient 1979); the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computer Society (charter recipient 1982); the Distinguished Research Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association (1985); the Research Excellence Award of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (1989); the Emanuel R. Piore Award of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (1990); and the Franklin Institute’s Louis E. Levy Medal (1992).  On June 23, 1992, President Bush presented Newell the prestigious National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony.

Energetic in research and promotion, playful in his writing and theorizing, Allen Newell was an indefatigable promoter of artificial intelligence and cognitive science research until his death from cancer in Pittsburgh on July 19, 1992. At the time of his death, Newell held the chair of U.A. and Helen Whitaker Professor of Computer Science at CMU.


The Allen Newell Collection in arranged in 12 series (only 10 are available, either all or in part, online). The collection includes: scientific papers, project reports, manuals and proposals by Newell, his CMU colleagues, and others; computer programming instructions, printouts, and cognitive experiment data; teaching materials and student files containing papers and correspondence; lecture materials and conference information; publications and journal article reprints; and external correspondence, CMU interoffice memoranda, and e-mail printouts.

While much of the collection has been digitized, some material is unavailable online due to copyright or privacy concerns. Material that is not available online includes printouts of computer programs and incoming correspondence.


The following series are represented in the digital collection:


The RAND (The RAND Corporation) series contains papers relating to Newell’s work with the RAND Corporation. Represented are materials relating to the NSS Chess Machine; scientific papers by Newell, Simon, and others; the O.K. Moore logic experiments used to test the Logic Theorist (LT) and develop the General Problem Solver (GPS); the IPLs developed to program LT and GPS; and JOSS, a multi-task spreadsheet program.



The Soar series contains scientific papers on Soar and its computer science and psychology applications by Newell and others; papers, articles and journal reprints used as references by Newell; Soar software documentation and programming instructions; items from American and European Soar workshops and conferences; and lecture notes and presentation outlines.


Human Problem Solving

The Human Problem Solving seriescontains draft copies of the book dated 1969-1970, and early drafts and notes dated 1959-1961, 1967. The drafts are divided into chapters and several copies of each chapter are represented.  Many draft items were distributed to others in the artificial intelligence and psychology communities and later returned to Newell and Simon with comments and questions.  Study of the drafts reveals the authors’ processes in going from initial concept to publishable manuscript.


William James Lectures

The William James Lectures series contains Newell’s notes for each of the eight lectures he delivered at Harvard University in 1987, along with transcripts of the same and his presentation transparencies.  Correspondence, a preparatory schedule, and promotional materials are also represented. 


Unified Theories of Cognition

The Unified Theories of Cognition series includes typescript drafts of the book's chapters, front and back material, line art figures, reviews, and subject-related scientific papers for the 1990 book Newell crafted from the William James Lectures. 



The COGNET series contains papers on Newell’s attempt to create a computer network for cognitive scientists. 


Conferences and Professional Organizations

The Conferences and Professional Organizationsseriesholds lecture materials and logistical information from Newell’s speaking engagements and conference attendance, including: conference programs; lecture notes and outlines; presentation transcripts; and publications and mailings from professional organizations. 



The ARPAseries contains materials documenting Newell’s involvement with the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.  The series includes project proposals, research contracts, design protocols, presentation materials, agency-funded scientific papers, and research reports by Newell and others.



The Publications series contains articles, books, journal reprints, book chapters, etc. by Newell and other authors.  In particular, the series holds memorial retrospectives following Newell’s death, articles written by Newell on his career and research interests, and the transcript of a 1991 interview with Newell conducted by Arthur Norberg at the Charles Babbage Institute.  Material from Mind Matters, the CMU symposium given in honor of Newell, are also represented.


Computer Science Department

The Computer Science Department series includes material related to teaching and administration, such as: memoranda on departmental policy and curriculum, faculty and student affairs, computer hardware use, and the Task Force on the Future of Computing, to name a few. There are sections devoted to particular research initiatives, including concept learning studies, cognitive process research, and eye movement studies.  Other material includes papers written or co-written by Newell on projects other than Soar, ARPA research or reference material relating to department-based research. 



The following series have not been digitized, but are available for in-person research. More details about their contents are available in the finding aid:


Programming Instructions

The Programming Instructions series mainly consists of programs and computer printouts for Newell’s RAND and CMU projects, including the NSS chess machine, LT, IPLs, GPS, and JOSS.  Also represented are the RAND efforts regarding the OPS production system languages and ARPA programming efforts for L* and ZOG research.  Other Newell research programming includes: printouts and programming for CIT’s first PDP-10 computers, advancements on the LISP list-processing language for AI programming, and the MERLIN program -- a serious effort to construct a system that would understand and explain artificial intelligence.



The Correspondence contains diverse letters, memoranda, and e-mail. 


Accessing the Collection

The Allen Newell Papers are available for research in the Carnegie Mellon University Archives. Contact the archives to schedule an appointment.

Related Materials

Researchers may also be interested in the Herb Simon Papers.


1932 - 1997


Copyright for the collection has been transferred to Carnegie Mellon University. The collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials. .


This collection was digitized with support from the Newell family.