Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, the father of Fuzzy Logic
During my undergraduate years in the late 1980s I had the opportunity to participate in a few interesting research programs in math, logic and computer science. I spent two summers in Northern Michigan University in Marquette, under a National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored research program, and an academic year at the Argonne National Labs near Chicago, one of the handful of multi-disciplinary national labs funded by the Department of Energy (DOE).
It was during that period that I had my first exposure to fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic, which were introduced by Dr. Lotfi Asker Zadeh in 1965.
In regular or classical set theory, an element is either a member of a set or it is not; that is, we deal within a binary world. Fuzzy sets are generalized sets such that the membership is a real number in the [0, 1] range instead of 0 and 1 only. So each member of a set has a degree of membership. Similarly, in fuzzy logic instead of having the classical true/false, on/off, zero/one binary or Boolean value system, the value is any real number in the range [0, 1]. So any logical expression has a degree of truth from 0 to 1.
In general, fuzzy logic with its support for various shades of gray is a far better and more realistic representation of reality and the world we live in. But that doesn’t mean that there is any ambiguity in fuzzy logic itself, as the name “fuzzy” may otherwise suggest. As Dr. Zadeh says, fuzzy logic “is a precise logic of imprecision”.
Fuzzy logic was opposed at first by much of the scientific community at the time, but it proved to be a very powerful concept. Before long it advanced and became an active field within the electrical engineering and computer science disciplines, and found numerous applications in various fields and industries such as artificial intelligence and control systems automation.
The Japanese were among the first who aggressively adopted and used fuzzy logic in 1970s and 80s. Nowadays fuzzy logic is ubiquitous in our lives though we may not be aware of it. There are chips based on fuzzy logic in numerous appliances and consumer electronic products that we use and deal with on a daily bases, such as cameras and refrigerators. Over the years there have been thousands of patents granted in fuzzy logic.
And the main credit for the success of fuzzy Logic goes to Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, the founder of fuzzy logic. Dr. Zadeh was born to a journalist Iranian father (during an assignment in Baku) and a Russian doctor mother. He lived and studied in Iran before emigrating to USA, like many of us, to continue his education. He got his MS in EE at MIT, and his Ph.D. at Colombia University, where he also taught for a number of years. He then joined UC Berkeley in 1959, and that is where he published his seminal papers, Fuzzy sets and Fuzzy sets and systems, both in 1965, which gave birth to fuzzy logic and then he further developed the theory. Dr. Zadeh later on chaired Electrical Engineering and then Computer Science departments at UC Berkeley and remained there till his official retirement in the early 1990s, though he has continued to work and research there.
Dr. Zadeh has received numerous awards for his contributions to science and technology, the latest of which was the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering “for inventing and developing the field of fuzzy logic”. Here is a good video about him and his work. It also includes excerpts from a rercent interview with him.
Now because of his links to Iran (Iranian father and growing up in Iran) we Iranians are quick to consider him one of us. Certainly that wouldn’t be false. But Azerbaijanis and Russians also may think of him as one of their own as he was born in Baku to a Russian mother. However I like his own position in this regard that was published here. Dr. Zadeh is “quick to shrug off nationalism, insisting there are much deeper issues in life”. He is quoted saying, “the question really isn’t whether I’m American, Russian, Iranian, Azarbaijani, or anything else. I’ve been shaped by all these people and cultures and I feel quite comfortable among all of them.”
Well said! People like him are too large to be tied down to a particular nationality, ethnicity and religion. I’m sure he picked up good genes from his Iranian father and his Russian-Jewish mother. But certainly his studies, research, teachings, and his life experiences at MIT, Colombia University, and UC Berkeley — all of which are American and among the pinnacles of institutions in higher education, and the cradles of modern science, technology and engineering — have had a lot to do with his significant contributions in science and technology, and who he has become as a human being.
Years ago, I ran into him and his wife during a Cal Performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. I made eye contact with him but shied away from talking to him. I really wanted to tell him what a huge fan of his I was. In my world, people like him are the real heroes and stars.