Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88
Thomas Gramstad on Tue, 26 Jan 2016 03:52:24 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 2016 19:46:06 -0500
From: Richard Forno <rforno {AT} infowarrior.org>
To: Infowarrior List <infowarrior {AT} attrition.org>
Subject: [Infowarrior] - Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence,
     Dies at 88

Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88

Glenn Rifkin


Marvin Minsky, who combined a scientist???s thirst for knowledge with a 
philosopher???s quest for truth as a pioneering explorer of artificial 
intelligence, work that helped inspire the creation of the personal computer 
and the Internet, died on Sunday night in Boston. He was 88.

His family said the cause was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Well before the advent of the microprocessor and the supercomputer, 
Professor Minsky, a revered computer science educator at M.I.T., laid the 
foundation for the field of artificial intelligence by demonstrating the 
possibilities of imparting common-sense reasoning to computers.

???Marvin was one of the very few people in computing whose visions and 
perspectives liberated the computer from being a glorified adding machine to 
start to realize its destiny as one of the most powerful amplifiers for 
human endeavors in history,??? said Alan Kay, a computer scientist and a 
friend and colleague of Professor Minsky???s.

Fascinated since his undergraduate days at Harvard by the mysteries of human 
intelligence and thinking, Professor Minsky saw no difference between the 
thinking processes of humans and those of machines. Beginning in the early 
1950s, he worked on computational ideas to characterize human psychological 
processes and produced theories on how to endow machines with intelligence.

Professor Minsky, in 1959, co-founded the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence 
Project (later the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) with his colleague 
John McCarthy, who is credited with coining the term ???artificial 

Beyond its artificial intelligence charter, however, the lab would have a 
profound impact on the modern computing industry, helping to impassion a 
culture of computer and software design. It planted the seed for the idea 
that digital information should be shared freely, a notion that would shape 
the so-called open-source software movement, and it was a part of the 
original ARPAnet, the forerunner to the Internet.

Professor Minsky???s scientific accomplishments spanned a variety of 
disciplines. He designed and built some of the first visual scanners and 
mechanical hands with tactile sensors, advances that influenced modern 
robotics. In 1951 he built the first randomly wired neural network learning 
machine, which he called Snarc. And in 1956, while at Harvard, he invented 
and built the first confocal scanning microscope, an optical instrument with 
superior resolution and image quality still in wide use in the biological 

His own intellect was wide-ranging and his interests were eclectic. While 
earning a degree in mathematics at Harvard he also studied music, and as an 
accomplished pianist, he would later delight in sitting down at one and 
improvising complex baroque fugues.

Marvin Minsky in an undated photo. Louis Fabian Bachrach
Professor Minsky was lavished with many honors, notably, in 1970, the Turing 
Award, computer science???s highest prize.

He went on to collaborate, in the early ???70s, with Seymour Papert, the 
renowned educator and computer scientist, on a theory they called ???The 
Society of Mind,??? which combined insights from developmental child 
psychology and artificial intelligence research.

Professor Minsky???s book ???The Society of Mind,??? a seminal work 
published in 1985, proposed ???that intelligence is not the product of any 
singular mechanism but comes from the managed interaction of a diverse 
variety of resourceful agents,??? as he wrote on his website.

Underlying that hypothesis was his and Professor Papert???s belief that 
there is no real difference between humans and machines. Humans, they 
maintained, are actually machines of a kind whose brains are made up of many 
semiautonomous but unintelligent ???agents.??? And different tasks, they 
said, ???require fundamentally different mechanisms.???

Their theory revolutionized thinking about how the brain works and how 
people learn.

???Marvin was one of the people who defined what computing and computing 
research is all about,??? Dr. Kay said. ???There were four or five supremely 
talented characters from back then who were early and comprehensive and put 
their personality and stamp on the field, and Marvin was among them.???

Marvin Lee Minsky was born on Aug. 9, 1927, in New York City. The precocious 
son of Dr. Henry Minsky, an eye surgeon who was chief of ophthalmology at 
Mount Sinai Hospital, and Fannie Reiser, a social activist and Zionist.

Fascinated by electronics and science, the young Mr. Minsky attended the 
Ethical Culture School in Manhattan, a progressive private school from which 
J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the creation of the first atomic bomb, 
had graduated. (Mr. Minsky later attended the affiliated Fieldston School in 
Riverdale.) He went on to attend the Bronx High School of Science and later 
Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he studied mathematics at 
Harvard and received a Ph.D. in math from Princeton, where he met John 
McCarthy, a fellow graduate student.

Intellectually restless throughout his life, Professor Minsky sought to move 
on from mathematics once he had earned his doctorate. After ruling out 
genetics as interesting but not profound, and physics as mildly enticing, he 
chose to focus on intelligence itself.

???The problem of intelligence seemed hopelessly profound,??? he told The 
New Yorker magazine when it profiled him in 1981. ???I can???t remember 
considering anything else worth doing.???

To further those studies he reunited with Professor McCarthy, who had been 
awarded a fellowship to M.I.T. in 1956. Professor Minsky, who had been at 
Harvard by then, arrived at M.I.T. in 1958, joining the staff at its Lincoln 
Laboratory. A year later, he and Professor McCarthy founded M.I.T.???s AI 
Project, later to be known as the AI Lab. (Professor McCarthy left for 
Stanford in 1962.)

Professor Minsky???s courses at M.I.T. ??? he insisted on holding them in 
the evenings ??? became a magnet for several generations of graduate 
students, many of whom went on to become computer science superstars 

Among them were Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist; Gerald Sussman, a 
prominent A.I. researcher and professor of electrical engineering at M.I.T.; 
and Patrick Winston, who went on to run the AI Lab after Professor Minsky 
stepped aside.

Another of his students, Danny Hillis, an inventor and entrepreneur, 
co-founded Thinking Machines, a supercomputer maker in the early 1990s.

Mr. Hillis said he had so been taken by Professor Minsky???s intellect and 
charisma that he found a way to insinuate himself into the AI Lab and get a 
job there. He ended up living in the Minsky family basement in Brookline, 

???Marvin taught me how to think,??? Mr. Hillis said in an interview. ???He 
had a style and a playful curiosity that was a huge influence on me. He 
always challenged you to question the status quo. He loved it when you 
argued with him.???

Professor Minsky???s prominence extended well beyond M.I.T. While preparing 
to make the 1968 science-fiction epic ???2001: A Space Odyssey,??? the 
director Stanley Kubrick visited him seeking to learn about the state of 
computer graphics and whether Professor Minsky believed it would be 
plausible for computers to be able to speak articulately by 2001.

Professor Minsky is survived by his wife, Gloria Rudisch, a physician; two 
daughters, Margaret and Juliana Minsky; a son, Henry; a sister, Ruth Amster; 
and four grandchildren.

???In some ways, he treated his children like his students,??? Mr. Hillis 
recalled. ???They called him Marvin, and he challenged them and engaged them 
just as he did with his students.???

In 1989, Professor Minsky joined M.I.T.???s fledgling Media Lab. ???He was 
an icon who attracted the best people,??? said Nicholas Negroponte, the 
Media Lab???s founder and former director.

For Dr. Kay, Professor Minsky???s legacy was his insatiable curiosity. ???He 
used to say, `You don???t really understand something if you only understand 
it one way,?????? Dr. Kay said. ???He never thought he had anything 
completely done.???

It's better to burn out than fade away.


Melde deg av listen? Send mail til efn-listen-request {AT} uib.no med 
"unsubscribe" som emne/subject

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org
#   {AT} nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: