William Gale

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William Gale, circa 1997

William A. Gale (1939 or 1940 - 6 August 2002) grew up in Houston, Corpus Christi, and Fort Worth, Texas. His B.A. in math is from Rice University, as is the Ph.D. in physics.

Gale worked for several years for a company called Bellcomm which was a Bell System company set up to consult for NASA manned space flight during the Apollo years. With the decline of the manned space flight program, Bellcomm was absorbed back into Bell Labs and Gale followed it. Over the years, Gale published in physics, radio astronomy, bioastronomy, economics, computer science, applications of artificial intelligence in statistics, and computational linguistics.

Gale founded the Society for Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, published some five dozen papers, and a half-dozen books.

In the mid-1990s, Gale retired due to disability. Gale could not leave his house without help but he was "delighted to see people. Please drop by if you are in the New York area. My house is about 40 minutes from Manhattan. I've read a lot of science fiction, played board war games since Tactics II, and shifted to computer strategy games (but especially Go). I've written some poetry. I enjoy classical music--especially Beethoven chamber music."

Gale "wrote a complete operating system for the Apple II starting from a very simple bootstrap self-compiling compiler, moving to an assembler and a self-compiling compiler-compiler written in the bootstrap language, a C-level language, a file system, shell, editor, etc. What a trip that was! I had so much fun that I decided I should find a way to be paid for it, and that's when I picked up the AI applications in statistics at work."

Gale "grew up without TV and rarely watch it, so I'm kind of not in the current culture. However, I watch a few videos now and then. I collect videos of opera, modern dance, musicals, and outstanding movies--things worth seeing again and again. My favorite movies: Seven Samurai, Fantasia, Ordet."

In 1997, Gale's "ex-wife, Lynn, lives across the street with our 14-year-old daughter, Rebeckah; our 27-year-old daughter, Marion, lives with me. They all are helping me with things I can't do any more. Lynn practices law. Marion is deeply into the Society for Creative Anachronism. Rebeckah hangs out on the phone."


Autobiography from FMF website, 28 February 1997 [1]

New York Times, 16 February 1978 [2]

Dr. William A. Gale of the Bell Telephone Laboratories carried the colonization concept to its ultimate extreme. He envisioned its extension throughout the Milky Way galaxy, formed of more than a hundred billion stars, and then possibly to other galaxies.

Such dynamic expansion must be expected of any intelligent life form, he said, transforming a galaxy and perhaps even a cluster of galaxies. Since there is no evidence of any such transformation nearby, he suggested that the nearest intelligent life form must be very distant.

Dr. Gale, a physicist, served with Bellcomm, the Bell system's contribution to the Apollo moon‐landing project, before joining Bell. Telephone Laboratories. He envisioned an average population growth of half a percent annually, leading to a billionfold increase in a few thousand years.

This would saturate the solar system and migrations to other stars would become necessary. By then, he suggested at a press briefing before the meeting, technology would be able to develop habitats to orbit a star regardless of whether Earth‐like planets exist there. For such a construction, he added, “we will take whatever is available.”

In this way, the galaxy could be fully colonized in one to 10 million years—a short time, geologically speaking, ‘ and comparable to that in which the human race has inhabited the earth. If travel speeds in excess of one‐tenth the speed of light can be achieved, he said, colonization of other galaxies will become .

possible. He suggested that a lookout be kept for galaxies that seem to be vanishing as their stars are exploited. Skeptics in the audience commented, however, that his proposals ignored the difficulty, if not irrationality, of prolonged space travel.
— New York Times, 16 February 1978
We are sad to report that William A. Gale, statistician and computational linguist, passed away at his home in Maplewood, New Jersey on August 6, 2002.

He was 63. Bill grew up in Houston, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth, Texas, and earned his Bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Rice University. He started work at AT&T Bell Labs doing radio astronomy for the Venus probes.

In 1980 Bill moved to the statistics department at Bell Labs, where he collaborated with economists, and started to work more and more on issues related to computer science. With Daryl Pregibon he built the first demonstration of the feasibility of applying ideas from expert systems in statistics. In the late 1980's Bill's interests turned to computational linguistics, and the statistics of language. He worked initially with Ken Church on problems of term-frequency distributions, but was soon collaborating with many natural language researchers at Bell Labs and beyond.

Bill was enthusiastic about every problem he tackled, and his enthusiasm and his skill in applying mathematical models to novel domains will be sorely missed. We will also miss his patience in helping non-mathematicians understand how to apply statistical models to linguistic problems.

Finally, and perhaps more than anything, we will miss his gentility. As anyone who has worked with Bill will know, it was always a pleasure to talk to him, whether about technical matters, or about the wider realms of life.

- Ken Church, Chilin Shih, Richard Sproat
— Richard Sproat <rwsresearch.att.com>, 8 August 2002 [3]