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In Memory of Professor Earl 'Buz' Hunt (1933-2016), a pioneer in the field of human and artificial intelligence.

Earl Busby (Buz) Hunt (January 8, 1933 – April 12, 2016) was one of the great pioneers in the field of human and artificial intelligence. He was a brilliant scientist whose career spanned 60 years, the majority at the University of Washington. After he received his bachelor’s degree (Phi Beta Kappa) from Stanford University in 1954, he in spent three years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He then completed a Ph.D. in Psychology and Computer Science at Yale University in 1960. He held faculty positions at Yale, University of California Los Angeles and the University of Sydney before accepting a professorship in Psychology and Computer Science at the University of Washington in 1966, where he spent the rest of his career. He co-founded the University of Washington Computer Science department and spent eight years as chair of Psychology. He became professor emeritus in 2001 but continued to be active.

Hunt was among the first to use mathematical and computer modeling to explain human cognition. His doctoral thesis, in which he developed a computer simulation of human concept identification, applied techniques developed by Allen Newell and Herbert Simon to simulate inductive problem solving. His work is still being cited more than forty-five years later. His former doctoral student (in computer science), J.R. Quinlan, expanded Hunt’s techniques to produce the Star algorithm, which has been used widely in data mining within computer science.

During the early 1970s Hunt began to focus on individual differences in cognition, i.e. intelligence. Hunt felt that the evidence for genetic influences on individual differences in general intelligence should be integrated with efforts to understand the specific cognitive components involved in reasoning and other kinds of cognitive tasks. He, more than anyone else, initiated the cognitive approach to human intelligence, proposing what came to be called the “cognitive correlates” method for understanding the relationships between cognitive tasks and general intelligence tests. He showed that human intelligence could be understood partly through allocation of resources under conditions of competing stimuli. Hunt’s work had considerable influence in pressing cognitive psychologists to realize that individual differences in performance are not “error variance”; rather, they are important phenomena to be explained. He went on to study a broad range of abilities, from verbal abilities to multi-tasking to large-scale spatial orientation and became particularly interested in the role of individual differences in cognition in both education and the workplace. 

Hunt was tremendously productive over the course of his career, authoring hundreds of articles in leading psychological journals. His work tackled issues as diverse as consciousness, the impacts of aging and drugs on cognitive abilities, the interplay of language and culture, mathematical and computer models of reasoning and thought, attentional capture, divided attention, time pressured decision-making, the relationship between verbal and spatial abilities and navigation in virtual reality.

Hunt was Fellow of the American Psychological Association, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the first elected President of the International Society of Intelligence Research (2011). He served as Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, and Cognitive Psychology, and was a member of the Council of Editors of the American Psychological Association.

Hunt’s career is characterized by attempts to bring together different ideas and fields. It is a “big picture” approach, rather than the more common narrow scientific focus. This is demonstrated best in his ten published books. His book “Mathematical modeling of human behavior” (2007, Cambridge) draws on literature from cognitive psychology, sociology, and economics to describe how simple mathematical models advance discussions of apparently complex human behaviors. It was recognized as a Scientific American book club entry. His most recent book, “Human Intelligence” (2011, Cambridge) represents a similar integrative effort in the field of intelligence and is considered by many the finest on the topic.

Another major theme in Hunt’s career was the application of his work to practical problems. For instance, he studied the impact of epilepsy medication on cognitive abilities, developed a prototype expert-system program for teaching introductory physics and a test of multi-tasking abilities to identify individuals for jobs that involve time pressured decision-making such as air traffic control and emergency responding. His book “Will we be smart enough: a cognitive analysis of the coming workforce” provides an analyses of the cognitive factors that will be required in the ever evolving workplace. It received the American Psychological Association's William James book award from the American Psychological Association (Division 1).

In 2009 Hunt received the Lifetime Achievement award for contributions to the scientific study of intelligence (International Society for Intelligence Research) and in 2011 the James McKeen Cattell award from the Association for Psychological Science for outstanding contributions to the area of applied psychological research. However, one of Hunt’s proudest achievements was advising and mentoring numerous doctoral and post doctoral students, many of whom have gone to renowned careers of their own in psychology and computer science.

And finally on a personal note, Buz was a “character.”  He was witty and at times piercingly sharp.  He was generous and kind to those who knew him, yet he did not hesitate to fervently disagree.  He believed strongly in academic freedom of expression and direction of study, but equally strongly in the need for research rigor. One of his colleagues described him as the “most intellectually honest person I’ve known.” Buz cared greatly for his colleagues and students, too many to mention here, and aided generously their careers. He was a loyal husband and father and loved the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife Mary Lou raised their family in a home overlooking Lake Washington, where they lived for 50 years. Most of all, he was a man whose first goal in life was to seek the truth and let nothing stand in the way of his finding it.

To learn more details about Dr. Hunt's scientific contributions, see this article by Wendy Johnson that was submitted to the journal Intelligence.

Remembrances may be made to the Earl Hunt Graduate Fellowship Fund. This fund was created by Dr. Hunt and his family to support graduate students in Department of Psychology whose original, independent research extends beyond the domain of their faculty advisors.