Artificial Intelligence - Who Was Marvin Minsky?


Donner Professor of Natural Sciences Marvin Minsky (1927–2016) was a well-known cognitive scientist, inventor, and artificial intelligence researcher from the United States.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the 1950s and the Media Lab in the 1980s.

His renown was such that the sleeping astronaut Dr.

Victor Kaminski (killed by the HAL 9000 sentient computer) was named after him when he was an adviser on Stanley Kubrick's iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey in the 1960s.

At the conclusion of high school in the 1940s, Minsky got interested in intelligence, thinking, and learning machines.

He was interested in neurology, physics, music, and psychology as a Harvard student.

On problem-solving and learning ideas, he collaborated with cognitive psychologist George Miller, and on perception and brain modeling theories with J.C.R. Licklider, professor of psychoacoustics and later father of the internet.

Minsky started thinking about mental ideas while at Harvard.

"I thought the brain was made up of tiny relays called neurons, each of which had a probability linked to it that determined whether the neuron would conduct an electric pulse," he later recalled.

"Technically, this system is now known as a stochastic neural network" (Bern stein 1981).

This hypothesis is comparable to Donald Hebb's Hebbian theory, which he laid forth in his book The Organization of Behavior (1946).

In the mathematics department, he finished his undergraduate thesis on topology.

Minsky studied mathematics as a graduate student at Princeton University, but he became increasingly interested in attempting to build artificial neurons out of vacuum tubes like those described in Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts' famous 1943 paper "A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity." He thought that a machine like this might navigate mazes like a rat.

In the summer of 1951, he and fellow Princeton student Dean Edmonds created the system, termed SNARC (Stochastic Neural-Analog Reinforcement Calculator), with money from the Office of Naval Research.

There were 300 tubes in the machine, as well as multiple electric motors and clutches.

Making it a learning machine, the machine employed the clutches to adjust its own knobs.

The electric rat initially walked at random, but after learning how to make better choices and accomplish a wanted objective via reinforcement of probability, it learnt how to make better choices and achieve a desired goal.

Multiple rats finally gathered in the labyrinth and learnt from one another.

Minsky built a second memory for his hard-wired neural network in his dissertation thesis, which helped the rat recall what stimulus it had received.

When confronted with a new circumstance, this enabled the system to explore its memories and forecast the optimum course of action.

Minsky had believed that by adding enough memory loops to his self-organizing random networks, conscious intelligence would arise spontaneously.

In 1954, Minsky finished his dissertation, "Neural Nets and the Brain Model Problem." After graduating from Princeton, Minsky continued to consider how to create artificial intelligence.

In 1956, he organized and participated in the DartmouthSummer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence with John McCarthy, Nathaniel Rochester, and Claude Shannon.

The Dartmouth workshop is often referred to as a watershed moment in AI research.

Minsky started replicating the computational process of proving Euclid's geometric theorems using bits of paper during the summer workshop since no computer was available.

He realized he could create an imagined computer that would locate proofs without having to tell it precisely what it needed to accomplish.

Minsky showed the results to Nathaniel Rochester, who returned to IBM and asked Herbert Gelernter, a new physics hire, to write a geometry-proving program on a computer.

Gelernter built a program in FORTRAN List Processing Language, a language he invented.

Later, John McCarthy combined Gelernter's language with ideas from mathematician Alonzo Church to develop LISP, the most widely used AI language (List-Processing).

Minsky began his studies at MIT in 1957.

He started worked on pattern recognition difficulties with Oliver Selfridge at the university's Lincoln Laboratory.

The next year, he was hired as an assistant professor in the mathematics department.

He founded the AI Group with McCarthy, who had transferred to MIT from Dartmouth.

They continued to work on machine learning concepts.

Minsky started working with mathematician Seymour Papert in the 1960s.

Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry (1969) was a joint publication describing a kind of artificial neural network described by Cornell Aeronautical Lab oratory psychologist Frank Rosenblatt.

The book sparked a decades-long debate in the AI field, which continues to this day in certain aspects.

The mathematical arguments provided in Minsky and Papert's book pushed the field to shift toward symbolic AI (also known as "Good Old-Fashioned AI" or GOFAI) in the 1980s, when artificial intelligence researchers rediscovered perceptrons and neural networks.

Time-shared computers were more widely accessible on the MIT campus in the 1960s, and Minsky started working with students on machine intelligence issues.

One of the first efforts was to teach computers how to solve problems in basic calculus using symbolic manipulation techniques such as differentiation and integration.

In 1961, his student James Robert Slagle built a software for symbol manipulation.

SAINT was the name of the application, which operated on an IBM 7090 transistorized mainframe computer (Symbolic Automatic INTegrator).

Other students applied the technique to any symbol manipulation that their software MACSYMA would demand.

Minsky's pupils also had to deal with the challenge of educating a computer to reason by analogy.

Minsky's team also worked on issues related to computational linguistics, computer vision, and robotics.

Daniel Bobrow, one of his pupils, taught a computer how to answer word problems, an accomplishment that combined language processing and mathematics.

Henry Ernst, a student, designed the first computer-controlled robot, a mechanical hand with photoelectric touch sensors for grasping nuclear materials.

Minsky collaborated with Papert to develop semi-independent programs that could interact with one another to address increasingly complex challenges in computer vision and manipulation.

Minsky and Papert combined their nonhierarchical management techniques into a natural intelligence hypothesis known as the Society of Mind.

Intelligence, according to this view, is an emergent feature that results from tiny interactions between programs.

After studying various constructions, the MIT AI Group trained a computer-controlled robot to build structures out of children's blocks by 1970.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the blocks-manipulating robot and the Society of Mind hypothesis evolved.

Minsky finally released The Society of Mind (1986), a model for the creation of intelligence through individual mental actors and their interactions, rather than any fundamental principle or universal technique.

He discussed consciousness, self, free will, memory, genius, language, memory, brainstorming, learning, and many other themes in the book, which is made up of 270 unique articles.

Agents, according to Minsky, do not require their own mind, thinking, or feeling abilities.

They are not intelligent.

However, when they work together as a civilization, they develop what we call human intellect.

To put it another way, understanding how to achieve any certain goal requires the collaboration of various agents.

Agents are required by Minsky's robot constructor to see, move, locate, grip, and balance blocks.

"I'd like to believe that this effort provided us insights into what goes on within specific sections of children's brains when they learn to 'play' with basic toys," he wrote (Minsky 1986, 29).

Minsky speculated that there may be over a hundred agents collaborating to create what we call mind.

In the book Emotion Machine, he expanded on his views on Society of Mind (2006).

He argued that emotions are not a separate kind of reasoning in this section.

Rather, they reflect different ways of thinking about various sorts of challenges that people face in the real world.

According to Minsky, the mind changes between different modes of thought, thinks on several levels, finds various ways to represent things, and constructs numerous models of ourselves.

Minsky remarked on a broad variety of popular and significant subjects linked to artificial intelligence and robotics in his final years via his books and interviews.

The Turing Option (1992), a book created by Minsky in partnership with science fiction novelist Harry Harrison, is set in the year 2023 and deals with issues of artificial intelligence.

In a 1994 article for Scientific American headlined "Will Robots Inherit the Earth?" he said, "Yes, but they will be our children" (Minsky 1994, 113).

Minsky once suggested that a superintelligent AI may one day spark a Riemann Hypothesis Catastrophe, in which an agent charged with answering the hypothesis seizes control of the whole planet's resources in order to obtain even more supercomputing power.

He didn't think this was a plausible scenario.

Humans could be able to converse with intelligent alien life forms, according to Minsky.

They'd think like humans because they'd be constrained by the same "space, time, and material constraints" (Minsky 1987, 117).

Minsky was also a critic of the Loebner Prize, the world's oldest Turing Test-like competition, claiming that it is detrimental to artificial intelligence research.

To anybody who could halt Hugh Loebner's yearly competition, he offered his own Minsky Loebner Prize Revocation Prize.

Both Minsky and Loebner died in 2016, yet the Loebner Prize competition is still going on.

Minsky was also responsible for the development of the confocal microscope (1957) and the head-mounted display (HMD) (1963).

He was awarded the Turing Award in 1969, the Japan Prize in 1990, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1991. (2001). Daniel Bobrow (operating systems), K. Eric Drexler (molecular nanotechnology), Carl Hewitt (mathematics and philosophy of logic), Danny Hillis (parallel computing), Benjamin Kuipers (qualitative simulation), Ivan Sutherland (computer graphics), and Patrick Winston (computer graphics) were among Minsky's doctoral students (who succeeded Minsky as director of the MIT AI Lab).

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

You may also want to read more about Artificial Intelligence here.

See also: 

AI Winter; Chatbots and Loebner Prize; Dartmouth AI Conference; 2001: A Space Odyssey.

References & Further Reading:

Bernstein, Jeremy. 1981. “Marvin Minsky’s Vision of the Future.” New Yorker, December 7, 1981.

Minsky, Marvin. 1986. The Society of Mind. London: Picador.

Minsky, Marvin. 1987. “Why Intelligent Aliens Will Be Intelligible.” In Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence, edited by Edward Regis, 117–28. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Minsky, Marvin. 1994. “Will Robots Inherit the Earth?” Scientific American 271, no. 4 (October): 108–13.

Minsky, Marvin. 2006. The Emotion Machine. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Minsky, Marvin, and Seymour Papert. 1969. Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Singh, Push. 2003. “Examining the Society of Mind.” Computing and Informatics 22, no. 6: 521–43.

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