Why is "dynamic programming" called by that name?

August 06 · 1 min read

Another trivia!

In about 42:10 minutes in Lecture 2 of MIT OCW 6.0002, Prof. John Guttag inserted in his lecture the history of dynamic programming — why is it called “dynamic programming”?

He said that the inventor, Richard Bellman, chose the name “dynamic programming” because

it did not mean anything. The inventor was doing mathematics and at that time, he was being funded by a part of the defense department that didn’t approve of mathematics, and he wanted to conceal that fact…

In his slides, he qouted the inventor himself:

“The 1950s were not good years for mathematical research… I felt I had to do something to sheild Wilson and the Air Force from the fact that I was really doing mathematics… What title, what name, could I choose? … It’s impossible to use the word dynamic in a pejorative sense. Try thinking of some combination that will possibly give it a pejorative meaning. It’s impossible. Thus, I thought dynamic programming was a good name. It was something not even a Congressman could object to. So I used it as an umbrella for my activities.

— Richard Bellman