Marvin Minsky: Wikis


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Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky in 2008
Born Marvin Lee Minsky
August 9, 1927 (1927-08-09) (age 82)
New York City, United States
Fields Cognitive Science
Institutions MIT
Alma mater Harvard University
Princeton University
Doctoral advisor Albert W. Tucker
Doctoral students Manuel Blum
Daniel Bobrow
Carl Hewitt
Danny Hillis
Joel Moses
Gerald Jay Sussman
Ivan Sutherland
Terry Winograd
Patrick Winston
Known for Artificial intelligence
Notable awards Turing Award (1969)
Japan Prize (1990)
IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1991)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2001)

Marvin Lee Minsky (born August 9, 1927) is an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy.



Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City, where he attended The Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science. He later attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He served in the US Navy from 1944 to 1945. He holds a BA in Mathematics from Harvard (1950) and a PhD in the same field from Princeton (1954). He has been on the MIT faculty since 1958. In 1959[1] he and John McCarthy founded what is now known as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is currently the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and Professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Minsky won the Turing Award in 1969, the Japan Prize in 1990, the IJCAI Award for Research Excellence in 1991, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute in 2001[2].

Minsky is listed on Google Directory as one of the all time top six people in the field of artificial intelligence.[3] Isaac Asimov described Minsky as one of only two people he would admit were more intelligent than himself, the other being Carl Sagan.[4] Patrick Winston 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[5] (1957, a predecessor to today's widely used confocal laser scanning microscope). He developed, with Seymour Papert, the first Logo "turtle". Minsky also built, in 1951, the first randomly wired neural network learning machine, SNARC.

Minsky wrote the book Perceptrons (with Seymour Papert), which became the foundational work in the analysis of artificial neural networks. 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. That said, none of the mathematical proofs present in the book, which are still important and interesting to the study of perceptron networks, were ever countered.

Minsky was an adviser[6] on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and is referred to in the movie and book.

Probably no one would ever know this; it did not matter. In the 1960s, Minsky and Good had shown how neural networks could be generated automatically—self replicated—in accordance with any arbitrary learning program. Artificial brains could be grown by a process strikingly analogous to the development of a human brain. In any given case, the precise details would never be known, and even if they were, they would be millions of times too complex for human understanding.
Arthur C. Clarke , 2001: A Space Odyssey[7]

In the early 1970s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Minsky and Seymour Papert 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, 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.[8]


Marvin Minsky is affiliated with the following organizations:

Minsky is a critic of the Loebner Prize.[12][13]

Personal life

The Minskytron or "Three Position Display" running on the Computer History Museum's PDP-1, 2007

Minsky is an actor in an artificial intelligence koan (attributed to his student, Danny Hillis) from the Jargon file:

In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6 (computer).
"What are you doing?" asked Minsky.
"I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe," 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.

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. 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, with Seymour Papert, MIT Press, 1969 (Enlarged edition, 1988).
  • Artificial Intelligence, with Seymour Papert, Univ. of Oregon Press, 1972. Out of print.
  • 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, Warner Books, New York, 1992. Science fiction thriller about the construction of a superintelligent robot in the year 2023.
  • The Emotion Machine[14] Simon and Schuster, November 2006. ISBN 0-7432-7663-9 (book available online on his MIT home page; see below)

See also


  1. ^ Horgan, John (November 1993). "Profile: Marvin L. Minsky: The Mastermind of Artificial Intelligence". Scientific American 269 (5): 14–15.  
  2. ^ Marvin Minsky - The Franklin Institute Awards - Laureate Database. Franklin Institute. Retrieved on March 25, 2008.
  3. ^ Google Directory - Computers > Artificial Intelligence > People
  4. ^ Isaac Asimov (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. Doubleday/Avon. p. 217,302. ISBN 0-380-53025-2.  
  5. ^ The patent for Minsky's Microscopy Apparatus was applied for in 1957, and subsequently granted US Patent Number 3,013,467 in 1961. According to his published biography on the MIT Media Lab webpage, "In 1956, when a Junior Fellow at Harvard, Minsky invented and built the first Confocal Scanning Microscope, an optical instrument with unprecedented resolution and image quality".
  6. ^ For more, see this interview,
  7. ^ Clarke, Arthur C.: "2001: A Space Odyssey"
  8. ^ Marvin Minsky's Home Page
  9. ^ Extropy Institute Directors & Advisors
  10. ^ Alcor: Scientific Advisory Board
  11. ^ Minsky joins kynamatrix board of directors
  12. ^ Minsky -thread.html
  13. ^ Technology | Artificial stupidity
  14. ^ Simon & Schuster: The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind (Hardcover)

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Marvin Minsky

Marvin Lee Minsky (born August 9, 1927) is an American scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of MIT's AI laboratory, author of several texts on AI and philosophy, and winner of the 1969 Turing Award.


  • In today's computer science curricula [...] almost all their time is devoted to formal classification of syntactic language types, defeatist unsolvability theories, folklore about systems programming, and generally trivial fragments of "optimization of logic design"–the latter often in situations where the art of heuristic programming has far outreached the special-case "theories" so grimly taught and tested–and invocations about programming style almost sure to be outmoded before the student graduates.
    • "Form and Content in Computer Science"[1], 1969 Turing Award Lecture, Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery 17 (2), April 1970
  • Computer languages of the future will be more concerned with goals and less with procedures specified by the programmer.
    • "Form and Content in Computer Science"[2], 1969 Turing Award Lecture, Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery 17 (2), April 1970
  • Speed is what distinguishes intelligence. No bird discovers how to fly: evolution used a trillion bird-years to 'discover' that–where merely hundreds of person-years sufficed.
    • "Communication with Alien Intelligence"[3], in Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence, Edward Regis, Ed., Cambridge University Press, 1985
    • Also published in Byte Magazine, April 1985
  • 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
  • An ethicist is someone who sees something wrong with whatever you have in mind.
  • Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children.
    • Scientific American, October 1994 [4]

Quotes about Marvin Minsky

  • Although my own previous enthusiasm has been for syntactically rich languages like the Algol family, I now see clearly and concretely the force of Minsky's 1970 Turing lecture, in which he argued that Lisp's uniformity of structure and power of self reference gave the programmer capabilities whose content was well worth the sacrifice of visual form.

External link

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