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The Guy Who Invented Those Smiley Faces

Dr. Scott Fahlman has been working on artificial intelligence for his entire 40-year career at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. In particular, Fahlman wants to revolutionize our human-computer interactions. But on September 19, 1982 he created something that will outlast his career working with AI—the emoticon, those little symbols we've grown to love, "the smiley": :-).

Fahlman invented the smiley when his CMU colleagues were having trouble recognizing sarcasm on an electronic bulletin board. "The need for a 'joke marker' arose after a series of posts speculating about various things that could happen in a free-falling elevator. Would a pigeon in the elevator keep flying? Would a lit candle go out? What would a puddle of mercury do?" As Fahlman says in the story, "What's amusing is that [after] a forty-year career working on AI—I could solve AI and I know what the first line of my obit would be." Dr. Fahlman will forever be known as the guy who invented the emoticon.

Possible Preaching Angle:

What will you be remembered for?


Rachel Wilkinson, “The Father of the Emoticon Chases His Great White Whale,” Narratively (Accessed 10/8/20)

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