Lotfi Zadeh, inventor of ‘fuzzy logic,’ dies at 96

Lotfi Zadeh — professor emeritus, world-renowned computer scientist and leader of the college community — died on September 6, 2017 at the age of 96.

Lotfi A. Zadeh was born in 1921 in Baku, Azerbaijan. He studied at Alborz College, an American Presbyterian Missionary School in Tehran, Iran, and later at the University of Tehran, from which he received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1942.

Zadeh traveled to the United States in 1944 to pursue graduate studies and received the S.M. degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946. Subsequently, he joined the faculty of Columbia University as an instructor in electrical engineering, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in 1949. He was appointed as assistant professor in 1950 and then promoted to full professor in 1957.

At Columbia University, Zadeh taught courses in electromagnetic theory, circuit analysis, system theory, information theory and sequential machines. His doctoral dissertation initiated a new direction in frequency analysis of time-varying networks. In 1950, he co-authored, with J. R. Ragazzini, a seminal paper on an extension of Wiener’s theory of prediction. In 1952, he co-authored, also with Ragazzini, a paper on sampled-data systems, which led to the widely-used method of z-transformation.

In 1959, Zadeh left Columbia University to join the faculty of the electrical engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley. He was named department chair in 1963. During his five-year tenure, the name of the department was changed to electrical engineering and computer sciences. Zadeh became a professor emeritus in 1991.

After moving to Berkeley, Zadeh focused his attention on linear systems and automata theory. This work led to his collaboration with Charles Desoer on a text on linear system theory entitled The State Space Approach, which laid the foundation for the modern approach to systems analysis and control.

In 1965, Zadeh authored his seminal paper on fuzzy sets. This landmark paper initiated a new direction that, over the past three decades, has led to a vast literature and a rapidly-growing number of applications ranging from consumer products to subway trains and decision-support systems. In the future, the impact of fuzzy set theory — or fuzzy logic, as it is commonly referred to today — is likely to be felt not only in the realm of products and manufacturing, but also in the basic sciences, and especially in mathematics,  physics and chemistry.

Zadeh was a Fellow of the IEEE and a recipient of the 1973 IEEE Education Medal, the 1992 IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal and an IEEE Centennial Medal. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. Among his other awards are the Ronda Prize, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Rudolf Oldenburger Medal, the Grigore Moisil Prize, the Kampe de Feriet Medal and several honorary doctorates. Zadeh was a  fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Computing Machinery and the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. He was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1995 “For pioneering development of fuzzy logic and its many diverse applications.”

Zadeh is survived by his son, Norman. His daughter, Stella, died in 2006, and his wife, Fay, passed away earlier this year.

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