RICHARD BELLMAN ON THE BIRTH OFDYNAMIC PROGRAMMING
University of California, Berkeley, IEOR, Berkeley, California 94720, email@example.com
hat follows concerns events from the summer of 1949, when Richard Bellman ﬁrst became inter-ested in multistage decision problems, until 1955. AlthoughBellman died on March 19, 1984, the story will be toldin his own words since he left behind an entertaining andinformative autobiography,
Eye of the Hurricane
(WorldScientiﬁc Publishing Company, Singapore, 1984), whosepublisher has generously approved extensive excerpting.During the summer of 1949 Bellman, a tenured asso-ciate professor of mathematics at Stanford University witha developing interest in analytic number theory, was con-sulting for the second summer at the RAND Corporationin Santa Monica. He had received his Ph.D. from Princetonin 1946 at the age of 25, despite various war-relatedactivities during World War II—including being assignedby the Army to the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.He had already exhibited outstanding ability both in puremathematics and in solving applied problems arising fromthe physical world. Assured of a successful conventionalacademic career, Bellman, during the period under con-sideration, cast his lot instead with the kind of appliedmathematics later to be known as operations research. Inthose days applied practitioners were regarded as distinctlysecond-class citizens of the mathematical fraternity. Alwaysone to enjoy controversy, when invited to speak at vari-ous university mathematics department seminars, Bellmandelighted in justifying his choice of applied over pure math-ematics as being motivated by the real world’s greater chal-lenges and mathematical demands.Following are excerpts, taken chronologically fromRichard Bellman’s autobiography. The page numbers aregiven after each. The excerpt section titles are mine. Theseexcerpts are far more serious than most of the book, whichis full of entertaining anecdotes and outrageous behaviorsby an exceptionally
BELLMAN’S INTRODUCTION TO MULTISTAGEDECISION PROCESS PROBLEMS
“I was very eager to go to RAND in the summer of 1949
I became friendly with Ed Paxson and asked himwhat RAND was interested in. He suggested that I work on multistage decision processes. I started following thatsuggestion” (p. 157).
CHOICE OF THE NAME DYNAMICPROGRAMMING
“I spent the Fall quarter (of 1950) at RAND. My ﬁrst task was to ﬁnd a name for multistage decision processes.“An interesting question is, ‘Where did the name,dynamic programming, come from?’ The 1950s were notgood years for mathematical research. We had a very inter-esting gentleman in Washington named Wilson. He wasSecretary of Defense, and he actually had a pathologicalfear and hatred of the word, research. I’m not using theterm lightly; I’m using it precisely. His face would suffuse,he would turn red, and he would get violent if people usedthe term, research, in his presence. You can imagine how hefelt, then, about the term, mathematical. The RAND Cor-poration was employed by the Air Force, and the Air Forcehad Wilson as its boss, essentially. Hence, I felt I had to dosomething to shield Wilson and the Air Force from the factthat I was really doing mathematics inside the RAND Cor-poration. What title, what name, could I choose? In the ﬁrstplace I was interested in planning, in decision making, inthinking. But planning, is not a good word for various rea-sons. I decided therefore to use the word, ‘programming.’I wanted to get across the idea that this was dynamic, thiswas multistage, this was time-varying—I thought, let’s killtwo birds with one stone. Let’s take a word that has anabsolutely precise meaning, namely dynamic, in the clas-sical physical sense. It also has a very interesting propertyas an adjective, and that is it’s impossible to use the word,dynamic, in a pejorative sense. Try thinking of some com-bination that will possibly give it a pejorative meaning.It’s impossible. Thus, I thought dynamic programming wasa good name. It was something not even a Congressmancould object to. So I used it as an umbrella for my activi-ties” (p. 159).
EARLY ANALYTICAL RESULTS
“The summer of 1951 was old-home-week. Sam Karlin andHal Shapiro were at RAND.
Dynamic programming: history. Professional: comments on.
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© 2002 INFORMSVol. 50, No. 1, January–February 2002, pp. 48–51
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