Marvin Minsky, “father of artificial intelligence,” dies at 88

Left portrait photo of Marvin Minsky. Right photo of metal robotic forearm and hand.

The Minsky Arm (right), developed by Marvin Minsky (left) in the late 1960s through the early 1970s, used a camera and computer to build with blocks. Working on the arm served as inspiration for his later work on the human mind. (Portrait photo of Marvin Minsky by Louis Fabian Bachrach; Minksy arm photo courtesy of gastev on Flickr, license CC BY.)

Professor emeritus was a co-founder of CSAIL and a founding member of the Media Lab.

MIT Media Lab  | January 25, 2016

Marvin Minsky, a mathematician, computer scientist, and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Sunday, Jan. 24, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 88.

Minsky, a professor emeritus at the MIT Media Lab, was a pioneering thinker and the foremost expert on the theory of artificial intelligence. His 1985 book “The Society of Mind” is considered a seminal exploration of intellectual structure and function, advancing understanding of the diversity of mechanisms interacting in intelligence and thought. Minsky’s last book, “The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind,” was published in 2006.

Minsky viewed the brain as a machine whose functioning can be studied and replicated in a computer — which would teach us, in turn, to better understand the human brain and higher-level mental functions: How might we endow machines with common sense — the knowledge humans acquire every day through experience? How, for example, do we teach a sophisticated computer that to drag an object on a string, you need to pull, not push — a concept easily mastered by a two-year-old child?

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Screengrab of Marvin Minsky lecturing in front of a chalkboard.

Marvin Minsky in the introductory lecture video from his OCW course 6.868J The Society of Mind.

With OCW, you can witness Professor Minsky’s teaching in a complete set of video lectures from his classic MIT course 6.868J The Society of Mind. Cory Doctorow wrote this appreciation yesterday:

I once met Minsky over a long lunch and managed to express some of my admiration for his work; he was modest and warm and engaging.

That warmth and brilliance shines through in this MIT Open Courseware course, also called “Society of Mind.” Like Feynman’s undergraduate physics lectures, Minksy’s introductory course shows what happens when you ask a brilliant master to provide an overview of their area of expertise.

OCW is also a great way to explore the field of artificial intelligence, with nearly forty courses on the topic.

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