On the Passing of Marvin Minsky, Pioneer of Artificial Intelligence

Stephen L Kanaval |

We are all sort of living in Marvin Minsky’s mind. Philosopher Minsky, MIT Professor Minsky, 1969 Turing Award Winner Minsky passed away in Boston on Sunday from cerebral hemorrhaging. Minsky co-founded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with John McCarthy in 1959. The laboratory was a hive of modern innovation and invention. The first prototype of the internet was conceived there.The notions of digital communication were conceived there. Revolutionary software design was conceived there. Marvin Minsky’s work had a profound impact on our world and his ideas still promote the idea that technology, especially artificial intelligence, can save humankind from itself.



Minksy was a polymath like no other. While studying mathematics at Harvard, he studied music and blossomed into an accomplished pianist who could compose Bach-like fugues.Minksy also built visual scanners, microscopes, and sensors. Later, Minksy studied genealogy and physics. He found them both too limiting. Thus, he began to connect the human psychological map to the processes of machines. This led him to write the classic The Society of Mind, where he posited that human thought is not done in any one particular core area of the brain, but rather that human thought is a diverse group of acting agents that were managing their tasks at once. Intellect is not itself intelligent, but rather it is managed multiplicities.

The ideas in Society of Mind outlined the challenges of computer programmers in the future. How do we make multiple, autonomous functions work simultaneous? How do we teach a computer common sense? Before he passed, Minksy was recorded laughing at the IBM computer Watson, he referred to it as an answering machine. It is very clear that Minksy saw us a long way off from true artificial intelligence, but it was his amazing mind that shined the light ahead.

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