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Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky is one of the grand old men of artificial intelligence. He hangs out at MIT, probably because it's name starts with M...

I like Minsky because in a field (artificial intelligence) without a great deal to show for its early promises, and given to sometimes silly claims and ideas, he strikes me as one of the few people consistently able to see the obvious.

He's been widely blamed for setting back the field of neural net computing twenty years, for the sin of publicly observing that the Perceptron (the state of the art back then) was inherently limited to linearly seperable distinctions, and hence was hardly a beeline to artificial intelligence. He was right, and many people have never forgiven him for that...

Minsky has written a number of popular books expounding his ideas, such as The Society of Mind SIMON AND SHUSTER 1985 ISBN 0-671-60740-5, which has lots of bitesize thoughts in a format which he thinks of as innovative, and which I tend to think of as "Artificial Intelligence Meets MTV" grin.

My favorite Minsky quote, from a talk at the UW, is to the effect that perhaps religions serve to keep us from wasting time on unanswerable quetions by providing pat answers.

My favorite Minsky anecdote comes from Stephen Levy's Hackers, wherein one of Minsky's pet projects, a ping-pong playing robot, decided that his bald pate looked a lot like a ping-pong ball, so it made a good college try at decapitating him...

Artificial intelligence seems to be quite away off still.

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