It was started in 1963 by John McCarthy, after he moved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Stanford. From 1965 to 1980, it was housed in the D.C. Power building (named after an executive of GTE), in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Stanford. During this period it was one of the leading centres for AI research.
In 1980, its activities were merged into the university's Computer Science Department and it moved into Margaret Jacks Hall in the main Stanford campus.
SAIL was reopened in 2004, with Sebastian Thrun becoming its new director. SAIL's 21st century mission is to "change the way we understand the world"; its researchers contribute to fields such as bioinformatics, cognition, computational geometry, computer vision, decision theory, distributed systems, game theory, general game playing, image processing, information retrieval, knowledge systems, logic, machine learning, multi-agent systems, natural language, neural networks, planning, probabilistic inference, sensor networks, and robotics.
SAIL alumni played a major role in many Silicon Valley firms, becoming founders of now-large firms such as Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems as well as smaller companies such as Vicarm Inc. (acquired by Unimation), Foonly, Imagen, Xidex, Valid Logic Systems, and D.E. Shaw & Co. Research accomplishments at SAIL were many, including in the fields of speech recognition and robotics.
SAIL also created the WAITS operating system. At SAIL, WAITS ran on various models of Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10 computers, starting with the PDP-6, then the KA10 and KL10. WAITS also ran on Foonly systems at CCRMA and LLL. At one time, the SAIL system was a triple processor KL10/KA10/PDP-6. The SAIL system was shut down in 1991.
SAIL, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Language, was developed by Dan Swinehart and Bob Sproull of the Stanford AI Lab in 1970.