Illinois Tech Mourns the Passing of Professor Emeritus Peter H. Greene



By Casey Moffitt

Peter H. Greene, professor emeritus of computer science at Illinois Institute of Technology, is remembered as an innovative researcher, a dedicated teacher, and a generous and kind colleague after passing away on January 29, 2023.

Trained as a mathematical biologist, Greene’s interest in understanding how organisms control their actions led him to mathematical models of brain function in the late 1950s, which sparked his interest in the nascent field of artificial intelligence. His research throughout his career was characterized by a breadth of interest and a clarity of vision. His goal was to understand how to integrate perception, reasoning, learning, and action.

“He was no narrow specialist,” says Shlomo Argamon, professor of computer science and chair of Illinois Tech’s Department of Computer Science. “Peter always sought the broad, integrated view of whatever he studied. He researched how language and mental imagery work together to enable effective reasoning about action, how logic can be used to devise plans that are responsive to changing conditions, and how simulating babies can lead to more intelligent machines.”

Greene joined Illinois Tech in 1974 to begin the Department of Computer Science’s program in artificial intelligence. He came to the university from the University of Chicago, where he had taught after earning his Ph.D. in mathematical biology there. He continued his teaching and research career at Illinois Tech until 2003 and was bestowed emeritus status.

In 1959 Greene published his first paper in artificial intelligence titled, “An Approach to Computers that Perceive, Learn and Reason.” His work drew on biology, psychology, language, logic and semantics, and was supported by the United States Air Force and the Office of Naval Research. Throughout his career, Greene’s research focused on modeling how a computer with a body could think more like a person, artificial intelligence, neural networks, and applications in robotics.  

“Peter was a kind and welcoming colleague,” says Cynthia Hood, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Illinois Tech. “He was often found in the computer science office photocopying articles, and he was always ready to have a conversation about research or teaching pedagogy.”

His curiosity in artificial intelligence drove his determination in research. But Greene is also remembered as a loving husband to his wife, Judy, and a dedicated father to his sons Michael and Jethro. He is also remembered as a warm-hearted friend.

“He was always kind and supportive when anything sad happened in my life,” says Cookie Ruggiero, the graduate admission coordinator for the Department of Computer Science. “Any sickness or passing of my relatives, he was at our side.”

His humor was infectious.

“He had this silly thing he always said, ‘I have lots of papers to get rid of, but I have to copy them all first,’” Ruggiero says. “He was quite a wonderful and unforgettable friend.”