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Donald Michie

Donald Michie (November 11, 1923 July 7, 2007)[1][2][3] was a British researcher in artificial intelligence[4]. During World War II, Michie worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, contributing to the effort to solve "Tunny," a German teleprinter cipher.


Early life and career

Michie was born in Rangoon, Burma.[5] He attended Rugby School and won a scholarship to study classics at Balliol College, Oxford. In Spring 1943, however, looking for some way to contribute to the war effort, Michie instead attempted to enroll on a Japanese language course in Bedford for intelligence officers. On arrival, it transpired that the course was full, and instead he trained in cryptography, displaying a natural aptitude for the subject. Six weeks later, he was recruited to Bletchley Park and was assigned to the "Testery," a section which tackled a German teleprinter cipher.[6] During his time at Bletchley Park he worked with Alan Turing and Jack Good.

Postwar research

Between 1945 and 1952 he studied at Balliol College, Oxford; he received his DPhil, in mammalian genetics, in 1953.[5]

In 1960, he developed the Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine (MENACE), one of the first programs capable of learning to play a perfect game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Since computers were not readily available at this time, Michie implemented his program with about 300 matchboxes, each representing a unique board state. Each matchbox was filled with coloured beads, each representing a different move in that board state. The quantity of a colour indicated the "certainty" that playing the corresponding move would lead to a win. The program was trained by playing hundreds of games and updating the quantities of beads in each matchbox depending on the outcome of each game.

Michie was director of the University of Edinburgh's Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception (previously the Experimental Programming Unit) from its establishment in 1965. The machine intelligence unit predated the university's computer science unit. He remained at Edinburgh until 1985,[7] when he left to found the Turing Institute in Glasgow[8]. Active in the research community into his eighties, he devoted the last decade of his life to the UK charity The Human Computer Learning Foundation, and worked with Stephen Muggleton, Claude Sammut, Richard Wheeler, and others on natural language systems and theories of intelligence. In 2007 he was completing a series of scientific articles on the Sophie Natural Language System and a book manuscript entitled "Jehovah's Creatures".

Michie invented the memoization technique.[9] He was involved in many different groups during his lifetime. He was a:

  • Fellow of the British Computer Society;
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh;
  • Honorary Fellow of the American National Academy of Sciences;
  • Honorary Fellow of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences.
  • Founder and Treasurer of the Human-Computer Learning Foundation, a charity registered in the UK.[10]

Personal life

He was married three times, the second to biologist Anne McLaren from 1952 to 1959. He had four children, one by his first wife, and three by Prof. McLaren, including economist Jonathan Michie and health psychologist Susan Fiona Dorinthea Michie. Michie and McLaren remained friends after their divorce, and became close again after the death of his third wife.

Michie aged 83 and his ex-wife McLaren died in a car crash on July 7, 2007 whilst they were travelling from Cambridge to London.[3]


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