Marvin Minsky, pioneer in artificial intelligence, passes away aged 88

Professor Minsky, who died on Sunday, January 24, 2016, was 88.

Updated: Jan 26, 2016, 21:46 PM IST
Marvin Minsky, pioneer in artificial intelligence, passes away aged 88
Photo credit:Wikimedia Commons

Boston: Marvin Minsky, pioneer in artificial intelligence and who helped make machines think, leading to computers that understand spoken commands and beat grandmasters at chess, is no more.

Professor Minsky, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Sunday, January 24, 2016, was 88 years of age.

Minsky was one of the world's foremost artificial intelligence experts. He went on to cofound the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab, in 1959, with John McCarthy.

The MIT-based artificial intelligence and computing giant also built the first computer capable of learning through connections that mimic human neurons.

“Minsky had 'a monster brain'. He could be intimidating without meaning to be because he was "such a genius," MIT colleague Patrick Winston, a professor of artificial intelligence and computer science, was quoted as saying in a 2012 interview.

Minsky`s greatest contribution to computers and artificial intelligence was the notion that neither human nor machine intelligence is a single process. Instead, he argued, intelligence arises from the interaction of numerous processes in a "society of mind" - a phrase Minsky used for the title of his 1985 book.

"Marvin basically figured out that thinking isn`t a thing but an embarrassing mess of dumb things that work together, as in a society," said Danny Hillis, a former Minsky student and now co-chairman of the Applied Minds technology company.

Minsky`s insight led to the development of smart machines packed with individual modules that give them specific capabilities, such as computers that play grandmaster-level chess, robots that build cars, programs that analyze DNA and software that creates lifelike dinosaurs, explosions and extraterrestrial worlds for movies.

Minsky lent his expertise to one of culture`s most notorious thinking machines - the HAL 9000 computer from the book and film "2001: A Space Odyssey" that turned against its astronaut masters. Minsky served as an adviser for the movie, which he called "the most awesome film I`d ever seen."

Minsky, who was born in New York City in 1927, was drawn to science and engineering as a child, enthralled by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

He also composed music in the style of Bach - an interest he pursued into his later years.

Minsky graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a degree in mathematics and in 1954 earned a Ph.D. in math from Princeton University.

Artificial intelligence is also essential to almost every computer function, from web search to video games, and tasks such as filtering spam email, focusing cameras, translating documents and giving voice commands to smartphones.

Professor Minsky won many awards, including the Turing Award in 1969 - computer science’s highest prize.

In 2011, Minsky was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame for the 'significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems'.

(With Agency inputs)