Roger Schank - a tribute

Roger Schank

A tribute

Dr. Roger Schank passed away “…peacefully and with dignity on Sunday, January 29, 2023, at the age of seventy-six.”

The article that follows by Dimitris Lyras, is a tribute to Roger Schank,  a long-time friend and associate of Dimitri’s.
Many of us at Ulysses Systems knew Roger and worked with him. We, therefore, join Dimitris in his tribute to an inspirational Artificial  Intelligence theorist, a visionary cognitive scientist and pioneer in education.


“Roger was a close business associate and a very close friend.
We knew each other 27 years had the most fun doing, what I think, was quite useful work. We shared an insatiable appetite for thinking about the world and how things work. Mine was a mechanic’s approach to understanding the world, his, a psychologist’s. I got a lot of flak for being a boring engineer and my reaction was to call him Chief as in my world the Chief engineer is next to God. He didn’t complain too much…!

Roger had an unbelievable sense of human emotions and how they control our decision making. This was combination that made him hugely insightful and above that, extraordinarily humorous and good company.

Roger Schank’s work

It is my belief that Roger Schank’s work will be recognized as the most pivotal in computer science and human education. Not even the famous Greek Philosophers made such clear and practical inroads into how the human mind works. No one was more practically focused on how people think and therefore how they need to learn. He spent the past 50 years breaking down education into the way it can mesh with us as humans. His work is widely recognized in the field of education and cognitive science. So much so that recent computer scientists in disciplines like complexity are beginning to recognize his work’s significance in computer science. His work is pivotal for those who care how people perform. Fortunately, the large consulting companies and the armed forces saw this as early as the 80’s.

Separation of concerns

What is less obvious is that he also broke down the constituents of software architecture into the proper separation of concerns. In other words, the separation of concerns that would carry the science forward in being able to assist people and the world we live in. He did this in 1969 when he introduced the concept of common sense to software constructs. Had this caught on in computer science, software today would not be an awkward amalgam of commands and data. Software would build on itself by recognizing what it knows and what it can learn from other software and the world around it. And help produce really impressive aids to our daily lives. But today we see a statistical approach to software learning by using correlations and this is hardly self-learning software.

Extraordinary people

His clear mindedness not surprisingly was often hard on people around him, but we must all appreciate that extraordinary people can be a handful.”

Roger Schank, 1946 – 2023, a tribute by Dimitris Lyras

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