I’d first heard of Roger Schank’s work as an AI ‘groupie’ during my college years. His contributions to cognitive science have been immense. He was a challenging personality and intellect, and yet he fought for the right things. He passed away yesterday, and he will be missed.
Roger’s work connected story to cognition. He first saw how we had expectations about events owing to his experience at a restaurant with an unusual approach. At Legal Seafoods (at the time) you paid before being served (more like fast food than a sit-down venue). Surprised, Roger realized that there must be cognitive structures for events that were similar to the proposed schemas for things. He investigated the phenomena computationally, advancing artificial intelligence and cognitive science. Roger subsequently applied his thinking to education, writing Engines for Education (amongst other works), while leading a variety of efforts in using technology to support learning. He also railed against AI hype, accurately of course. I was a fan.
I heard Roger speak at a Cog Sci conference I attended to present part of my dissertation research. The controversy around his presentation caused the guest speaker, Stephen Jay Gould, to comment “you guys are weird”! His reputation preceded him; I had one of his PhD graduates on a team and he told me Roger was deliberately tough on them, saying “if you can survive me, you can survive anyone”.
I subsequently met up with Roger at several EdTech events hither and yon. In each he was his fiery, uncompromising self. Yet, he was also right. He was a bit of a contradiction: opinionated and unabashed, but also generous and committed to meaningful change. He also was a prodigious intellect; if you were as smart as him, I guess you had a reason to be self-confident. I got to know him a bit personally at those events, and then when he engaged me for advice to his company. He occasionally would reach out for advice, and always offer the same.
He could be irritating in his deliberate lack of social graces, but he was willing to learn, and had a good heart. In return, I learned a lot from him, and use some of his examples in my presentations. It was an honor to have known him, and the world will be a little duller, and probably a little dumber, without him. Rest in peace.
Elham Arabi says
I’m deeply saddened to hear Roger Shank’s passing! I remember my first encounter with him at a conference. He had a generous heart to offer me guidance to pursue my doc program and was exceptionally gifted (as you said). It was my plan to be his mentee after I finished my studies. Alas I never got to pursue it! He will be dearly missed and I lost a great opportunity!
Elham, if memory serves, you and I dined with him in Singapore, before you started your PhD program!
I missed the news about Roger’s passing. I had been waiting for him to weigh in on ChatGPT and all things AI. I just Googled him to see if he’s made comment and was saddened by the search results. Roger has had quite an impact on me with how I think about learning. I happened to be in Singapore in 2015 for the Learn Tech Asia conference. I remember very clearly Roger going rogue and sticking his boot into everything in his opening keynote. That conference has been by far the best that I ever attended. I learned so much. The lineup was great (with yourself included!)
Ben, thanks for sharing that memory. His views have definitely shaped mine as well. Wishing you all the best, — Clark