Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RIP Marvin Minsky Artificial Intelligence Pioneer

When we are as connected as we are, (and when you are a media pig like I am) you are going to get constant notices of people passing.  Glenn Frey and David Bowie as recent examples.  I felt a little more nostalgic with Glenn Frey.  When it is someone like Alan Rickman I feel sad because of the age that he passed and knowing his personal contributions are no longer available, though his achievements will have lasting effects.  Leonard Nimoy was sad to me on a very nostalgic level.  I also recognize he had a long and fulfilling life.

This rather long preamble is for the death of Marvin Minsky at the wonderful age of 88.  Minsky co-founded the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1959. His goal was to mimic human perception and intelligence in a machine; along the way, he created some of the first robotic hands with tactile sensors, while also working to address the philosophical questions posed by the machines he created.

I met him once in my life and heard him speak twice.  At one point as a youngster in the late 80's I was deeply fascinated with his work on artificial intelligence.  He was a character.  When AI fell into a bit of a slump, (and in order to be taken seriously you had to call the next steps Expert Systems), I am sure he was as prickly as could be.  But at the same time I would have loved to hear his views on Deep Blue and Watson.  I suppose I will have to look those up.

Here is a snippet from an article today in Scientific America:

""Why are you asking me this question?" Minsky growled. The concern that scientists will run out of things to do is "pitiful," he said. "There's plenty to do." We humans may well be approaching our limits as scientists, but we will soon create machines much smarter than us that can continue doing science.

But that would be machine science, not human science, I said.

"You're a racist, in other words," Minsky said, his great domed forehead purpling. I scanned his face for signs of irony, but found none. "I think the important thing for us is to grow," Minsky continued, "not to remain in our own present stupid state." We humans, he added, are just "dressed up chimpanzees." Our task is not to preserve present conditions but to evolve, and create beings smarter than us."


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