Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky

Overview
Marvin Lee Minsky is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 (AI), co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

.

Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 to a Jewish family, where he attended The Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science
Bronx High School of Science
The Bronx High School of Science is a specialized New York City public high school often considered the premier science magnet school in the United States. Founded in 1938, it is now located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx...

. He later attended Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy is a selective, co-educational independent boarding high school for boarding and day students in grades 9–12, along with a post-graduate year...

 in Andover, Massachusetts
Andover, Massachusetts
Andover is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. It was incorporated in 1646 and as of the 2010 census, the population was 33,201...

. He served in the US Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 from 1944 to 1945. He holds a BA in Mathematics from Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 (1950) and a PhD in the same field from Princeton
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 (1954).
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Quotations

We rarely recognize how wonderful it is that a person can traverse an entire lifetime without making a single really serious mistake -- like putting a fork in one's eye or using a window instead of a door.

The Society of Mind (1987)

What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle.

The Society of Mind (1987), p. 308
Encyclopedia
Marvin Lee Minsky is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 (AI), co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

.

Biography


Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 to a Jewish family, where he attended The Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science
Bronx High School of Science
The Bronx High School of Science is a specialized New York City public high school often considered the premier science magnet school in the United States. Founded in 1938, it is now located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx...

. He later attended Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy is a selective, co-educational independent boarding high school for boarding and day students in grades 9–12, along with a post-graduate year...

 in Andover, Massachusetts
Andover, Massachusetts
Andover is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. It was incorporated in 1646 and as of the 2010 census, the population was 33,201...

. He served in the US Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 from 1944 to 1945. He holds a BA in Mathematics from Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 (1950) and a PhD in the same field from Princeton
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 (1954). He has been on the MIT faculty since 1958. In 1959 he and John McCarthy
John McCarthy (computer scientist)
John McCarthy was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. He coined the term "artificial intelligence" , invented the Lisp programming language and was highly influential in the early development of AI.McCarthy also influenced other areas of computing such as time sharing systems...

 founded what is now known as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology formed by the 2003 merger of the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory...

. He is currently the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and Professor of electrical engineering
Electrical engineering
Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism. The field first became an identifiable occupation in the late nineteenth century after commercialization of the electric telegraph and electrical...

 and computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

.

Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

 described Minsky as one of only two people he would admit were more intelligent than he was, the other being Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

. Patrick Winston
Patrick Winston
Patrick Henry Winston is an American computer scientist, and is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Winston was director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from 1972 to 1997, succeeding Marvin Minsky, who left to found the MIT Media Lab and succeeded by Rodney Brooks...

 has also described Minsky as the smartest person he has ever met. Ray Kurzweil has referred to Minsky as his mentor.
Minsky's inventions include the first head-mounted graphical display (1963) and the confocal microscope (1957, a predecessor to today's widely used confocal laser scanning microscope). He developed, with Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert is an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator. He is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, as well as an inventor of the Logo programming language....

, the first Logo "turtle
Turtle (robot)
Turtles are a class of educational robots designed originally in the late 1940s and used in computer science and mechanical engineering training. These devices are traditionally built low to the ground with a roughly hemispheric shell and a power train capable of a very small turning radius...

". Minsky also built, in 1951, the first randomly wired neural network learning machine, SNARC
SNARC
SNARC is a neural net machine designed by Marvin Lee Minsky. It is a randomly connected network of Hebb synapses....

.

Minsky wrote the book Perceptrons
Perceptrons (book)
Perceptrons: an introduction to computational geometry is a book authored by Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, published in 1969. An edition with handwritten corrections and additions was released in the early 1970s...

(with Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert is an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator. He is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, as well as an inventor of the Logo programming language....

), which became the foundational work in the analysis of artificial neural network
Artificial neural network
An artificial neural network , usually called neural network , is a mathematical model or computational model that is inspired by the structure and/or functional aspects of biological neural networks. A neural network consists of an interconnected group of artificial neurons, and it processes...

s. This book is the center of a controversy in the history of AI, as some claim it to have had great importance in driving research away from neural networks in the 1970s, and contributing to the so-called AI winter
AI winter
In the history of artificial intelligence, an AI winter is a period of reduced funding and interest in artificial intelligence research. The process of hype, disappointment and funding cuts are common in many emerging technologies , but the problem has been particularly acute for AI...

. That said, few of the mathematical proofs present in the book, which are still important and interesting to the study of perceptron
Perceptron
The perceptron is a type of artificial neural network invented in 1957 at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory by Frank Rosenblatt. It can be seen as the simplest kind of feedforward neural network: a linear classifier.- Definition :...

 networks, were ever countered.
He also founded several other famous AI models. His book "A framework for representing knowledge" created a new paradigm in programming. While his "Perceptrons" is now more a historical than practical book, the theory of frames is in wide use.
Minsky was an adviser on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey (film)
2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 epic science fiction film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, and co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, partially inspired by Clarke's short story The Sentinel...

 and is referred to in the movie and book.
In the early 1970s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Minsky and Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert is an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator. He is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, as well as an inventor of the Logo programming language....

 started developing what came to be called The Society of Mind theory. The theory attempts to explain how what we call intelligence could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts. Minsky says that the biggest source of ideas about the theory came from his work in trying to create a machine that uses a robotic arm, a video camera, and a computer to build with children's blocks. In 1986, Minsky published The Society of Mind, a comprehensive book on the theory which, unlike most of his previously published work, was written for a general audience.

In November 2006, Minsky published The Emotion Machine
The Emotion Machine
The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind is a book by cognitive scientist Marvin Lee Minsky. The book is a sequel to Minsky's earlier book Society of Mind....

, a book that critiques many popular theories of how human minds work and suggests alternative theories, often replacing simple ideas with more complex ones. Recent drafts of the book are freely available from his webpage.

Awards and affiliations


Minsky won the Turing Award
Turing Award
The Turing Award, in full The ACM A.M. Turing Award, is an annual award given by the Association for Computing Machinery to "an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community. The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the...

 in 1969, the Japan Prize
Japan Prize
is awarded to people from all parts of the world whose "original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for mankind."- Explanation :...

 in 1990, the IJCAI Award for Research Excellence
IJCAI Award for Research Excellence
The IJCAI Award for Research Excellence is a biannual award given at the IJCAI conference to researcher in artificial intelligence as a recognition of excellence of their career...

 in 1991, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal
Benjamin Franklin Medal (Franklin Institute)
The Benjamin Franklin Medal is a science and engineering award presented by the Franklin Institute, of Philadelphia, PA, USA.-Laureates:*1998 - Emmanuel Desurvire *1998 - Robert B. Laughlin *1998 - David N. Payne...

 from the Franklin Institute
Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the United States, dating to 1824. The Institute also houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.-History:On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughn Merrick and...

 in 2001. In 2006, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum
Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum is a museum established in 1996 in Mountain View, California, USA. The Museum is dedicated to preserving and presenting the stories and artifacts of the information age, and exploring the computing revolution and its impact on our lives.-History:The museum's origins...

. In 2011, Minsky was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems
IEEE Intelligent Systems
IEEE Intelligent Systems, a bimonthly publication of the IEEE Computer Society. It is an AAAI-sponsored journal. Cosponsors are the British Computer Society and the European Coordinating Committee for Artificial Intelligence....

' AI's Hall of Fame for the "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems".

Marvin Minsky is affiliated with the following organizations:
  • United States National Academy of Engineering
  • United States National Academy of Sciences
    United States National Academy of Sciences
    The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

  • Extropy Institute's Council of Advisors
  • Alcor Life Extension Foundation
    Alcor Life Extension Foundation
    The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, most often referred to as Alcor, is a Scottsdale, Arizona, USA-based nonprofit company that researches, advocates for and performs cryonics, the preservation of humans in liquid nitrogen after legal death, with hopes of restoring them to full health when new...

    's Scientific Advisory Board
  • kynamatrix Research Network
    Kynamatrix Research Network
    kynamatrix Research Network is a nonprofit network of researchers dedicated to the scientific understanding and advancement of interactive communication...

    's Board of Directors


Minsky is a critic of the Loebner Prize
Loebner prize
The Loebner Prize is an annual competition in artificial intelligence that awards prizes to the chatterbot considered by the judges to be the most human-like. The format of the competition is that of a standard Turing test. In each round, a human judge simultaneously holds textual conversations...

.

Personal life


Minsky is an actor in an artificial intelligence koan
Hacker koan
Out of hacker culture, and especially the artificial intelligence community at MIT, there have sprung a number of humorous short stories about computer science dubbed hacker koans; most of these are recorded in an appendix to the Jargon File, where they are called AI Koans...

 (attributed to his student, Danny Hillis) from the Jargon file
Jargon File
The Jargon File is a glossary of computer programmer slang. The original Jargon File was a collection of terms from technical cultures such as the MIT AI Lab, the Stanford AI Lab and others of the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities, including Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Carnegie Mellon...

:
In the days when Sussman
Gerald Jay Sussman
Gerald Jay Sussman is the Panasonic Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . He received his S.B. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from MIT in 1968 and 1973 respectively. He has been involved in artificial intelligence research at MIT since 1964...

 was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6
PDP-6
The PDP-6 was a computer model developed by Digital Equipment Corporation in 1963. It was influential primarily as the prototype for the later PDP-10; the instruction sets of the two machines are almost identical.The PDP-6 was DEC's first "big" machine...

.
"What are you doing?" asked Minsky.
"I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe
Tic-tac-toe
Tic-tac-toe, also called wick wack woe and noughts and crosses , is a pencil-and-paper game for two players, X and O, who take turns marking the spaces in a 3×3 grid. The X player usually goes first...

," Sussman replied.
"Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky.
"I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play," Sussman said.
Minsky then shut his eyes.
"Why do you close your eyes?" Sussman asked his teacher.
"So that the room will be empty."
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.

Source


What I actually said was, "If you wire it randomly, it will still have preconceptions of how to play. But you just won't know what those preconceptions are." --Marvin Minsky


Minsky has three children: Henry Minsky, Julie Minsky and Margaret Minsky, who is herself a Doctor of Philosophy from MIT, with a special interest in Haptic technology. He also has four grandchildren: Gigi Minsky, Harry Minsky, Charlotte Minsky and Miles Steele.

Selected works

  • Neural Nets and the Brain Model Problem, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1954. The first publication of theories and theorems about learning in neural networks, secondary reinforcement, circulating dynamic storage and synaptic modifications.
  • Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines, Prentice-Hall, 1967. A standard text in computer science. Out of print now, but soon to reappear.
  • Semantic Information Processing, MIT Press, 1968. This collection had a strong influence on modern computational linguistics.
  • Perceptrons
    Perceptrons (book)
    Perceptrons: an introduction to computational geometry is a book authored by Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, published in 1969. An edition with handwritten corrections and additions was released in the early 1970s...

    , with Seymour Papert
    Seymour Papert
    Seymour Papert is an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator. He is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, as well as an inventor of the Logo programming language....

    , MIT Press, 1969 (Enlarged edition, 1988).
  • Artificial Intelligence, with Seymour Papert, Univ. of Oregon Press, 1972. Out of print
    Out-of-print book
    An out-of-print book is a book that is no longer being published. Out-of-print books are often rare, and may be difficult to acquire.A publisher will usually create a print run of a fixed number of copies of a new book. These books can be ordered in bulk by booksellers, and when all the...

    .
  • Communication with Alien Intelligence, 1985
  • Robotics, Doubleday, 1986. Edited collection of essays about robotics, with Introduction and Postscript by Minsky.
  • The Society of Mind, Simon and Schuster, 1987. The first comprehensive description of the Society of Mind theory of intellectual structure and development. See also The Society of Mind (CD-ROM version), Voyager, 1996.
  • The Turing Option, with Harry Harrison
    Harry Harrison
    Harry Harrison is an American science fiction author best known for his character the Stainless Steel Rat and the novel Make Room! Make Room! , the basis for the film Soylent Green...

    , Warner Books, New York, 1992. Science fiction thriller about the construction of a superintelligent robot in the year 2023.
  • The Emotion Machine
    The Emotion Machine
    The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind is a book by cognitive scientist Marvin Lee Minsky. The book is a sequel to Minsky's earlier book Society of Mind....

    Simon and Schuster, November 2006. ISBN 0-7432-7663-9 (book available online on his MIT home page; see below)

See also

  • Gerry Sussman
  • Terry Winograd
    Terry Winograd
    Terry Allen Winograd is an American professor of computer science at Stanford University, and co-director of the Stanford Human-Computer Interaction Group...

  • Transhumanism
    Transhumanism
    Transhumanism, often abbreviated as H+ or h+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human...

  • Russian cosmism
    Russian cosmism
    Russian cosmism was a philosophical and cultural movement that emerged in Russia in the early 20th century. It entailed a broad theory of natural philosophy combining elements of religion and ethics with a history and philosophy of the origin, evolution and future existence of the cosmos and...

  • N. F. Fyodorov
    Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov
    Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov was a Russian Orthodox Christian philosopher, who was part of the Russian cosmism movement and a precursor of transhumanism...

  • Claude Shannon
  • Triadex Muse
    Triadex Muse
    The Triadex Muse is a sequencer based synthesizer. It was produced in 1972. It was a deterministic event generator that used early digital integrated circuits to generate an audio output that could sound very musical. It was designed by Edward Fredkin and Marvin Minsky at MIT...


External links