Roger C. Schank, Theorist of Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 76

Those shortcomings, computer scientists say, could open the door to a revival of the ideas Dr. Schank advocated years ago. Adding facts about the physical world and structured reasoning, they say, could overcome the weaknesses of the new programs, which are called large language models.

“These models can do amazing things, but they need to be steered,” Kristian Hammond, an A.I. researcher at Northwestern University and a former student of Dr. Schank’s, said by phone. “Roger Schank’s work now has the partner technology, in large language models, to become real.”

“I think that’s going to end up being part of his legacy,” Dr. Hammond said.

Roger Carl Schank was born on March 12, 1946, in Manhattan. His father, Maxwell, was an administrator at the New York State Liquor Authority. His mother, Margaret (Rosenberg) Schank, ran a wholesale decorative-bead business.

Dr. Schank attended public schools in New York and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Texas.

After a stint as an assistant professor at Stanford University, Dr. Schank became a professor of computer science and psychology at Yale University in 1974. In his 15 years there, he served as chairman of the computer science department, became the director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project and mentored dozens of students who became A.I. researchers at universities and companies, including the Georgia Institute of Technology and Google.

Dr. Schank was a prolific author; two of his books for general audiences were selected for The New York Times Book Review’s annual list of “notable books.” “The Cognitive Computer: On Language, Learning, and Artificial Intelligence,” published in 1984 and written with Peter G. Childers, was described by Susan Chace in her Times review as a “clear, funny and smart” account of the problems involved in “trying to get computers to mimic human reasoning.” And the psychologist Robert J. Sternberg called “Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory” (1990) “an impressive book” that shows “we can understand intelligence better by examining people’s behavior in their everyday lives than by giving them trivial test problems.”

Dr. Schank’s “The Cognitive Computer” (1984), written with Peter G. Childers, was described by one reviewer as a “clear, funny and smart” account of the problems involved in “trying to get computers to mimic human reasoning.”

In addition to his wife, Dr. Schank is survived by his daughter, Hana Schank; his son, Joshua Schank; and four grandchildren. His first marriage, to Diane (Levine) Schank, ended in divorce in 1998.