Archive for June, 2009

I remember Donald Michie (1923 – 2007)

June 12, 2009

On July 7, 2007 Dame Anne McLaren and Donald Michie died in a car accident. Last time I had met Anne was in the 1970s when I stayed at their house in Edinburgh. Both were launched on scientific careers that were to lead them to positions rivalling each others’ eminence in their respective fields.

The last time I met Donald (henceforth “DM”) was when my wife and I visited him in Oxford in November 2004. He demo’ed the Sophie chatbot system, asking us what we thought of his choice of accent for the speech-generating software. He was intrigued by the way his current choice, labeled “Southern California Trash”, blended with the other personality attributes of Sophie. The stereo was playing DM’s current favourite, “Harper Valley PTA” sung by Jeannie C. Riley, another sassy American female.

Although excited by his current project, DM was depressed by the gloomy British weather; he would depart shortly to spend the winter in Gibraltar. “Gibraltar??”. “Yes, Gibraltar. I trust it will be sunny, and it is British.” In the following pages I have noted, roughly in chronological order, some experiences with this extraordinary man, one of the great pioneers in Artificial Intelligence.