Marvin Minsky, A.I. pioneer and Turing award winner, dies at 88

Minsky pioneered the exploration of the mind as a machine

mit marvin minsky
Credit: Louis Fabian Bachrach via MIT

Marvin Minsky, a professor emeritus at MIT who pioneered the exploration of the mind and its replication in a computer, died Sunday from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 88, according to the MIT Media Lab.

In his prologue to his seminal book, Society of Mind, Minsky wrote that he tried to explain how the mind works, and "that you can build a mind from many little parts, each mindless by itself."

In 1982, he wrote in a magazine article that, "it will be a long time before we learn enough about common sense reasoning to make machines as smart as people are." While researchers know a lot about making specialized expert systems, the machines were not capable of improving themselves in interesting ways, he added.

His last book, The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind, was published in 2006. In the book, he wrote that emotional states were not particularly different from thought processes, and said the purpose of the book was to suggest how human brains might work and to design machines that can feel and think.

A winner of several top awards, including the prestigious A.M. Turing Award in computer science in 1969, Minsky was born on Aug. 9, 1927. After graduating from Harvard University, following a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was awarded his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1954 from Princeton University, where he also built the first neural network simulator, called the SNARC, according to the MIT Media Lab statement on Monday.

He joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1958, and in the next year co-founded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which is now known as the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and focuses on ways of making systems and machines smarter and easier to use.

At the lab, Minsky worked on recreating human capabilities such as perception and intelligence in machines, including by building robotic hands that could handle objects.

By 1985, Minsky became a founding member of the MIT Media Lab, which works on areas such as wearable computing, tangible interfaces, and affective computing, at the edges of different disciplines. Minsky was the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences there, and continued to teach and mentor until recently, according to MIT Media Lab.

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