Happy Birthday Smiley! One Day and Counting :-)

  • Remote Access Enabled - Webinar
  • Virtual Presentation
  • Professor Emeritus (And Father of Smiley)
  • Computer Science Department and Language Technology Institute
  • School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Special Events

The Birth, Spread, and Evolution of the Smiley Emoticon

One day and counting!

Introductions:  Mary Shaw, A. J. Perlis University Professor, School of Computer Science

On September 19, 1982, Scott Fahlman — then a new, young faculty member in CMU's Department of Computer Science — posted a short message on one of our local online bulletin boards suggesting that we use the character string  :-)  to represent "I'm just kidding!" and  :-(  to represent "I'm not kidding -- this is serious!".  These symbols went viral, long before "going viral" was even a thing.  This idea quickly spread through the computer-using community at CMU and then across the ARPAnet (a precursor of the Internet) to the other leading CS schools in the U.S.  As soon as connections were made it spread to other U.S. universities and computer research groups, and then to Europe, Japan, and around the world.

The non-computer-nerd public first saw these symbols in the mid 1990's, when the rise of Email, web browsers, search engines, and less expensive computers finally gave "civilians" a reason to have computers in their homes.  Along the way, many more of these text-based "emoticons" were created.  Later, when bit-mapped graphics became widely available around the year 2000, these emoticons inspired the creation of graphical "emojis".  It is estimated that emojis, in all their various forms, are now used billions of times every day.

In this talk Scott Fahlman will describe how and why his original suggestion was made, and how the original smiley-face idea grew, spread, and evolved into its many modern forms.


Scott E. Fahlman is a Professor Emeritus in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, with joint appointments in the Language Technologies Institute and the Computer Science Department.  He received his PhD at the MIT AI Lab in 1977.  He joined CMU CSD in 1978, and has been on the SCS faculty ever since (with a few leaves of absence).  He has done research in many areas of Artificial Intelligence, and is a Fellow of the AAAI.  Through most of his career Prof. Fahlman has focused  on the closely related problems of common-sense reasoning, language understanding, and knowledge representation.  In the 1980s and early 1990s he was involved in the early development of artificial neural networks, and he is still doing some work in that area as well.  Though nominally retired, he is working hard on AI research, and is writing a book on "Knowledge-Based AI".

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