P. Stanley Peters, Director Emeritus of the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) and a Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, is known for his work in the logical analysis of meaning in natural languages and computational linguistics. In the first interview, Peters discusses his career trajectory beginning with his undergraduate studies in mathematics and his graduate study of linguistics with Noam Chomsky at MIT. He reflects upon his path to becoming a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and describes how his mathematical background allowed him to create a more scientific approach to research in linguistics. He describes a formative time at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and recounts his decision to move to Stanford after a term as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences where he made fruitful connections that ultimately resulted in the formation of CSLI.
Peters discusses the growth of the Department of Linguistics at Stanford and his time as chair of the department and comments on Stanford’s approach to its faculty and students, its willingness to engage with industry, and the support the university gives to interdisciplinary research. He explains some of his research contributions including work on presupposition, quantifiers, and the formal properties of Chomsky’s transformational grammars. He also discusses his research on electronic tutors, or computers than can converse with humans, including work with the Office of Naval Research to develop electronic tutors that could teach ship handling. He converses about developments in machine learning that have led to programs such as Google Translate and Siri.
In the second interview, Professor Peters elaborates on the evolution and impact of CSLI, and discusses the creation of the interdisciplinary Symbolic Systems major at Stanford, which has become popular with students interested in the intersections of cognitive science, computer technology, math, and linguistics. He also discusses his work on the Committee for Technology and Learning, which the university convened to develop Stanford’s strategy for online learning. He talks about his family, his love of music and playing the organ, and his hobby of aerobatic flying, which he began to learn in his forties when he got his pilot’s license. He concludes the interview by offering advice to young people who are just beginning their careers, espousing the value of a liberal arts education rather than a strictly defined career goal at too early an age. He talks about the importance of teamwork, flexibility, doing something one loves, and having broad rather than narrowly focused interests.
P. Stanley Peters, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, Stanford University--Department of Linguistics, Stanford University--Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University--Symbolic Systems Program, semantics, semantics--mathematical models, computational linguistics, linguists--interviews, linguistics--history--20th century, interdisciplinary research, System Development Foundation (Palo Alto, and Calif.)
December 3, 2015 - January 11, 2016
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012