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Hon. Rush Holt


Congressman, New Jersey
I ask the House to consider the life of David L. Waltz, who died of brain cancer last month in Princeton, NJ, at age 68. David Waltz was one of the world's leading experts and creative forces in computer science, and a fine example of a researcher, a teacher and mentor, and a life well lived. He was what we talk about when we talk about America's creative spirit and educational excellence and path-breaking industry.

A pioneer in artificial intelligence, David produced early research that led to Internet search engines that we all use. He also invented techniques that allow designers to look at two dimensional data from three dimensional perspectives, and he showed how to extend those constraint-propagation techniques beyond visualization to optimization of scheduling, routing, or building. His ideas and computer techniques of neural networks and machine learning are eagerly applied by computer companies, power companies, medical researchers, and healthcare providers. David's advances made it possible for computers to move beyond laborious bit-by-bit checking and referencing to a fixed checklist and to begin to recognize patterns, whether applied to images or speech or music.

Taught by the renowned Marvin Minsky at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where David received his Bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees, he went on to teach at the University of Illinois and Brandeis University. As head of the software division of the iconic company Thinking Machines he produced software innovations that have long outlasted that computer company. A decade ago David founded the Columbia University Center for Computational Learning Systems, where he worked until his death.

Surely more important than all the computer ideas, big and small, that he spawned are the many creative people he inspired, taught, and mentored. People who worked with him said everyone can remember a meeting, a conversation, or a simple thoughtful word when David changed one's research direction, career, or entire course of life for the better. In recent weeks his colleagues and students recorded their admiration for David and their sorrow at his death. Phrases like ``amazing mentor'', ``mentor with unreserved support and encouragement'', ``amazing colleague and boss'', and ``wise and understanding'' appear over and over in their remembrances.

David's colleagues called him a listener who inspired attention, someone who was as eager a listener as a talker, and someone who carried his great stature in the field gently and with genuine humility. He imbued his research teams with optimism by always drawing out merit of the work of others. And he built teamwork by sharing his interests in art, literature, music, and culture well beyond the immediate concerns of the research team. He encouraged his students and colleagues not to narrow their thinking; as a result the group could contribute as much to the treatment of epilepsy as to power grid blackouts. Everything was food for thought and an opportunity for an amusing or inventive insight.

Probably the greatest praise for David's leadership came from women who have worked with him. Some credited him with providing the greatest opportunities for career advancement for women of anyone in the field. David recruited and promoted women not as a crusader for equal rights but because it was for him obviously the right and wise thing to do. The lessons that teachers, researchers, supervisors--in fact any of us here in this House or elsewhere--can draw from David Waltz are not primarily about computer science and artificial intelligence. They are that the greatest creativity comes from inspiring others; the greatest technique of team-building is listening; the greatest innovation comes from devoting time to others' ideas; and the greatest wisdom is kindness.

I know all this to be true about David Waltz because he was a good friend of mine, and I personally also know he brought all of his wonderful qualities of uplifting and inspiring and nurturing others to his wonderful wife Bonnie and his two children, Jeremy and Vanessa.

Prof. Jordan Pollack


Professor, Brandeis University
David Waltz was a great man, a leader of science, a seminal contributor to AI, and a friend to me and my family.

When I flew to Urbana to pick a graduate school in the spring of 1980, he was away on sabbatical. I wandered around the Coordinated Sciences Lab, floor by floor, until landing on the 6th floor, where I made friends with such luminaries as Tim Finin and George Hadden. We succeeded the Finins as renters of a little house on Clark Street for our entire stay in Urbana. David hired me as a research assistant based on his student recommendations, and my graduate career was set.

Dave was very busy with giving talks and the occasional consulting which was standard for AI faculty in the day, but he always made time for me, often walking to his next meeting. His lab was busy and humming with people from disparate fields like psychology and linguistics. I was quoted in one Obituary that for such an ambitious person, he was quite humble. What I should have said is that his ambition was not a personal one, but was to always surround himself with smart people and give them a large, almost quixotic mission, then watch what human creativity can bring forth. For him, this might have been a repeated attempt to recapture what transpired in the early days of the MIT AI Lab. And he did it at Illinois, and again at Brandeis with the Volen Center, and yet again at Columbia. For me, however, this behavior was the key organizational principle that I learned from Dave, and one that I have tried to bring to my own labs, and to pass on to my own students.

As a mentor, Dave helped me many times during my career. His ONR funding was for Natural Language Processing, but I had come from IBM where I worked on massively parallel and distributed computing, and when i started looking into more psychologically plausible models of parsing, I adopted a massively parallel model. Instead of forcing me back to grant deliverables, Dave was very supportive of the new area and he even came up with the famous examples "The hunter shot some bucks, in a casino" and "The doctor practiced on Henry's organ". We modeled that mental tingle you just felt using brain-like metaphors for mental constructs, key ideas which were adopted by the resurgent field of connectionist neural networks.

When I finally went looking for a faculty job in 1987, Dave was helpful in getting me my position. For inexplicable reasons, I blew several interviews, and only got a one-year soft-money offer from Yale. Then, in the post-offer season, I luckily landed at another "Big 10" school, Ohio State where I launched my faculty career.

In 1993 I was invited by Dave to give a keynote at the Volen Center retreat at Brandeis and to stay in the Waltz's magnificent house in Marblehead The next year, after he decamped for New Jersey, Brandeis opened a search for a tenured position, and I applied. Although I like to think I won it on merit, I'm sure that Dave's beneficent influence, along with that keynote speech, helped me land the job I hold today,

During my early years at Brandeis, Dave and I renewed our friendship by serving together on many Ph.D committees. The last committee he served on was that of my student Richard Watson, and I'm sure it was Dave's influence again that helped Richard get his thesis published by MIT press.

In Urbana, Bonnie and Dave made Carrie and me feel like part of their family, and invited us to dinner parties and other events with faculty colleagues... a wonderful experience for a graduate student. We have photos with Dave and Bonnie at a Thanksgiving dinner at our little Urbana house, and I remember that Dave joined us in Columbus Ohio when our son Dylan was 8 days old for his Bris.

Though I knew Dave was seriously ill and so his death was not unexpected, his passing still hit me like a log, and I started working with Bonnie on organizing 2 big honors for him at Brandeis, a symposium and an endowed graduate fellowship.