John Edwin Laird was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 16, 1954 to John R. Laird, and Margaret L. Laird. The youngest of three, he has two sisters: Mary and Linda.


John grew up in Ann Arbor and attended Huron High School. After meeting her in junior high school, he got to know his future wife Ann Alpern while they participated in the high school debate team. Though debate was his main interest, John also played french horn in the band and alto saxophone in the marching band.



After high school, John stayed in Ann Arbor, and attended the University of Michigan, majoring in Computer Science. After graduating in 1975, he worked for Burroughs Corp. in nearby Plymouth, Michigan. There, he did work on the compiler for the S1000 check sorting system before deciding to return to graduate school.


John entered the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University in the fall of 1976. For the next eight years, John studied under AI legend Allen Newell. Together with Paul Rosenbloom, who shared John's interest in the architecture of the mind, John worked on the Instructable Production System. Though the project was unsuccessful, John and Paul learned a great deal about designing AI systems. Inspiration from Newell's ideas on alternative approaches to organizing rule-based systems led to John's research on Soar, the universal weak method, and universal subgoaling.

John defended his thesis on December 7, 1983. During the next six months, he worked with Paul Rosenbloom and Allen Newell on integrating learning in Soar (based on Paul's thesis work on chunking) and the development or R1-Soar, a reimplementation of the R1 expert system in Soar. The three agreed to dedicate their immediate future research to the development and application of Soar. John continues to work on Soar to this day.


That summer, John and Ann moved to Palo Alto, California, where Ann had a two-year fellowship at Stanford Hospital. John worked at Xerox PARC in the Intelligent Systems Laboratory, directed by John Seeley Brown. He continued to work on Soar and met Kurt Van Lehn.

In 1986, John joined the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of Michigan. Since then, John has continued his research into the architecture of the mind. He continues to develop the Soar architecture and apply it to new and more challenging domains. From 1994-1999, John was the director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (

From 1992-1997, John and his colleagues at the University of Michigan and the Information Science Institute at the University of Southern California used Soar to control autonomous agents for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat simulations. The success of this project led to the founding of Soar Technology, Inc. to develop advanced intelligent agent technology for new defense and commercial market applications. The company subsequently secured contracts with the US Air Force, Army, Navy and DARPA.

These days, John's work focuses on using computer games as a domain for AI research. Among his recent project are Quakebot, a Soar-powered Quake II agent, and Haunt 2, an adventure game with a focus on the significance of human-level AI characters. In addition, he annually teaches an undergraduate course in computer game development.


John currently lives Ann Arbor with Ann Alpern and their three daughters: Emily, Jessica, and Valerie. Ann is now a pathologist at St. Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor. His mother and father continue to live in Ann Arbor. Sister Mary is a manager at Battelle research labs in Columbus, OH. After working for over 20 years at Bell Labs and Lucent Technology in software management, sister Linda retired in 2001 and now works in marketing for a small telecommunication software company.


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