Marvin Minsky

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Marvin Minsky
Marvin Minsky at OLPCb.jpg
Minsky in 2008
Born Marvin Lee Minsky
(1927-08-09)August 9, 1927
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 24, 2016(2016-01-24) (aged 88)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Cognitive science
Computer science
Artificial intelligence
Philosophy of mind
Institutions MIT
Alma mater Phillips Academy
Harvard University (B.A., 1950)
Princeton University (Ph.D, 1954)
Thesis Theory of Neural-Analog Reinforcement Systems and Its Application to the Brain Model Problem (1954)
Doctoral advisor Albert W. Tucker[1][2]
Doctoral students James Slagle
Manuel Blum
Daniel Bobrow
Ivan Sutherland
Bertram Raphael
William A. Martin
Joel Moses
Warren Teitelman
Adolfo Guzmán Arenas
Patrick Winston
Eugene Charniak
Gerald Jay Sussman
Scott Fahlman
Benjamin Kuipers
Luc Steels
Danny Hillis
K. Eric Drexler[1][3]
Known for Artificial intelligence[4]
Confocal microscope[5]
Useless machine[6]
Triadex Muse[7]
Perceptrons (book)[9]
The Society of Mind[10]
The Emotion Machine[11]
Influenced David Waltz
Notable awards Turing Award (1969)
Japan Prize (1990)
IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1991)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2001)
Computer History Museum Fellow (2006)[12]
2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award

Marvin Lee Minsky (August 9, 1927 – January 24, 2016) was an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy.[13][14][15]


Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City to an eye surgeon father, Henry, and to a Jewish mother, Fannie, who was an activist in Zionist affairs,[16] where he attended The Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science. He later attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He then served in the US Navy from 1944 to 1945. He held a BA in mathematics from Harvard (1950) and a PhD in mathematics from Princeton (1954).[17][18] He was on the MIT faculty from 1958 to his death. In 1959[19] he and John McCarthy founded what is now known as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. At the time of his death, he was the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

3D profile of a coin (partial) measured with a modern confocal white light microscope

Minsky's inventions include the first head-mounted graphical display (1963)[20] and the confocal microscope[5][21] (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.[22] 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.[23] Minsky has also written on the possibility that extraterrestrial life may think like humans, permitting communication.[24] He was an adviser[25] 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 1980s, 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.[26]

In the early 1970s, at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Minsky and 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.[27]

Personal life and death[edit]

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

In 1952, Minsky married pediatrician Dr. Gloria Rudisch; together they had three children.[28] Minsky was a talented improvisational[29] pianist who published musings on the connections between music and psychology. He worked as an adviser for Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey; one of the film's characters, Victor Kaminski, was named in Minsky's honor.[30] Minsky enjoyed posing philosophical "riddles" such as "In science, one can learn the most by studying what seems the least."[29]

Minsky died in Boston of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 24, 2016.[31] It is not known whether he has been cryopreserved.[32]


Minsky was an atheist[33] and a signatory to the Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics.[34] He was a critic of the Loebner Prize.[35][36]

Minsky believed that there is no fundamental difference between humans and machines, and that humans are machines whose "intelligence" emerges from the interplay of the many unintelligent but semi-autonomous agents that make up the brain.[31] He has stated that "somewhere down the line, some computers will become more intelligent than most people," but that it's very hard to predict how fast progress will be.[37] He has cautioned that an artificial superintelligence designed to solve an innocuous mathematical problem might decide to take over all of Earth's resources to build supercomputers to help achieve its goal,[38] but believed that such negative scenarios are "hard to take seriously" because he was confident AI would go through "a lot of testing" before being deployed.[39]

Bibliography (selected)[edit]

Awards and affiliations[edit]

Minsky won the Turing Award (the highest distinction in computer science)[31] 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.[40] In 2006, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for co-founding the field of artificial intelligence, creating early neural networks and robots, and developing theories of human and machine cognition."[41] In 2011, Minsky was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame for the "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems".[42][43] In 2014, Minsky won the Dan David Prize in the field of "Artificial Intelligence, the Digital Mind".[44] He was also awarded with the 2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Information and Communication Technologies category.[45]

Minsky was affiliated with the following organizations:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Marvin Lee Minsky at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ Marvin Lee Minsky at the AI Genealogy Project.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Minsky, M. (1961). "Steps toward Artificial Intelligence". Proceedings of the IRE 49: 8–1. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1961.287775. 
  5. ^ a b Minsky, M. (1988). "Memoir on inventing the confocal scanning microscope". Scanning 10 (4): 128–138. doi:10.1002/sca.4950100403. 
  6. ^ Pesta, A (March 12, 2014). "Looking for Something Useful to Do With Your Time? Don't Try This". WSJ. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  7. ^ Hillis, Danny; McCarthy, John; Mitchell, Tom M.; Mueller, Erik T.; Riecken, Doug; Sloman, Aaron; Winston, Patrick Henry (2007). "In Honor of Marvin Minsky's Contributions on his 80th Birthday". AI Magazine 28 (4): 109. doi:10.1609/aimag.v28i4.2064 (inactive 2016-02-10). Retrieved January 26, 2016. 
  8. ^ Minsky, Marvin (1960). "Steps toward artificial intelligence". Retrieved December 13, 2006. 
  9. ^ Papert, Seymour; Minsky, Marvin Lee (1988). Perceptrons: an introduction to computational geometry. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-63111-3. 
  10. ^ Minsky, Marvin Lee (1986). The society of mind. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-60740-5.  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.
  11. ^ Minsky, Marvin Lee (2007). The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-7664-7. 
  12. ^ "Marvin Minsky". 
  13. ^ Marvin Minsky's publications indexed by the DBLP Bibliography Server at the University of Trier
  14. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  15. ^ "marvin minsky – Google Scholar". 
  16. ^ Science in the contemporary world: an encyclopedia ISBN 1851095241
  17. ^ Minsky, Marvin Lee (1954). Theory of Neural-Analog Reinforcement Systems and Its Application to the Brain Model Problem (PhD thesis). Princeton University. 
  18. ^ Hillis, Danny; John McCarthy; Tom M. Mitchell; Erik T. Mueller; Doug Riecken; Aaron Sloman; Patrick Henry Winston (2007). "In Honor of Marvin Minsky’s Contributions on his 80th Birthday". AI Magazine (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) 28 (4): 103–110. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  19. ^ Horgan, John (November 1993). "Profile: Marvin L. Minsky: The Mastermind of Artificial Intelligence". Scientific American 269 (5): 14–15. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1193-35. 
  20. ^ a b c "Brief Academic Biography of Marvin Minsky". Retrieved January 26, 2016. 
  21. ^ 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".
  22. ^ Olazaran, Mikel (August 1996). "A Sociological Study of the Official History of the Perceptrons Controversy". Social Studies of Science 26 (3): 611–659. doi:10.1177/030631296026003005. JSTOR 285702. 
  23. ^ Unknown (1975). "Minsky's frame system theory". Proceedings of the 1975 workshop on Theoretical issues in natural language processing – TINLAP '75. pp. 104–116. doi:10.3115/980190.980222. 
  24. ^ Minsky, Marvin (April 1985). "Communication with Alien Intelligence". BYTE. p. 127. Retrieved October 27, 2013. 
  25. ^ For more, see this interview,
  26. ^ Clarke, Arthur C.: "2001: A Space Odyssey"
  27. ^ "Marvin Minsky". 
  28. ^ "R.I.P. Marvin Minsky". Washington Post. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  29. ^ a b "Obituary: Marvin Minsky, 88; MIT professor helped found field of artificial intelligence". Boston Globe. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  30. ^ "AI pioneer Marvin Minsky dies aged 88". BBC News. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  31. ^ a b c "Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88". The New York Times. January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  32. ^ "Official Alcor Statement Concerning Marvin Minsky". Alcor News. 
  33. ^ Leon M. Lederman, Judith A. Scheppler (2001). "Marvin Minsky: Mind Maker". Portraits of Great American Scientists. Prometheus Books. p. 74. ISBN 9781573929325. Another area where he "goes against the flow" is in his spiritual beliefs. As far as religion is concerned, he's a confirmed atheist. "I think it [religion] is a contagious mental disease. . . . The brain has a need to believe it knows a reason for things. 
  34. ^ Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics, Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics, retrieved January 29, 2016 
  35. ^ "Minsky -thread.html". 
  36. ^ Technology | Artificial stupidity
  37. ^ "For artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky, computers have soul". Jerusalem Post. 13 May 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  38. ^ Russell, Stuart J.; Norvig, Peter (2003). "Section 26.3: The Ethics and Risks of Developing Artificial Intelligence". Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0137903952. Similarly, Marvin Minsky once suggested that an AI program designed to solve the Riemann Hypothesis might end up taking over all the resources of Earth to build more powerful supercomputers to help achieve its goal. 
  39. ^ Achenbach, Joel (6 January 2016). "Marvin Minsky, an architect of artificial intelligence, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  40. ^ Marvin Minsky – The Franklin Institute Awards – Laureate Database. Franklin Institute. Retrieved on March 25, 2008.
  41. ^ CHM. "Marvin Minsky — CHM Fellow Award Winner". Retrieved March 30, 2015. [1]
  42. ^ "AI's Hall of Fame" (PDF). IEEE Intelligent Systems (IEEE Computer Society) 26 (4): 5–15. 2011. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.64. 
  43. ^ "IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders". August 24, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011.  Press release source: PRWeb (Vocus).
  44. ^ "Dan David prize 2014 winners". May 15, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  45. ^ "MIT artificial intelligence, robotics pioneer feted: Award celebrates Minsky’s career". August 24, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  46. ^ "Extropy Institute Directors & Advisors". 
  47. ^ "Alcor: Scientific Advisory Board". 
  48. ^ Minsky joins kynamatrix board of directors

External links[edit]