Marvin Minsky

Those of you who know me know that I love computer science, programming, and all those things where you type stuff into an endless string of random-seeming numbers and letters and what comes out is a game of Dikembe Mutombo trying to save the world.

Those of you who really know me can also confidently say that none of that is true. No, I know nothing of programming, except that it’s a thing that is done to make writing this blog and really, everything else in life possible for uninitiated simple computer folk like me, or Matlock.

The Great Mr. Minsky.

The Great Mr. Minsky.

But enough about me. Let’s move on to the topic of today’s article, the great Marvin Minsky. Marvin doesn’t just possess a great double-m name, he also has a very powerful brain. Named as one of the “only two people more intelligent than I” by the eternally modest Isaac Asimov, Minsky has been described as “the superstar elder of artificial intelligence”. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is defined by Wikipedia as “technology and a branch of computer science that studies and develops intelligent machines and software”, not to be confused with the study of evil machines, which includes fax machines and copiers.

Minsky was a pioneer in his field, and continues to wow students as the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT. Someday dear readers, I too will have a sponsored job title.

Minsky realized early on, maybe thanks to his Princeton doctorate, that teaming up with guys with names like Seymour Papert would be a surefire way to success, and of course he was right. Papert and Minsky together developed the first Logo “turtle”. This is a great sounding fact, and to help clear that up I can bring you the exclusive news that Logo is a programming language whose product sometimes resembles turtles. See, I do research and everything. Misnky and Papert also co-wrote a book called Perceptrons, which I believe you can find at your local library for some afternoon reading material. You’re welcome.

Minsky also built the first randomly wired neural network learning machine (yes, that) in 1951 and called it SNARC, standing for Super Nifty Apparatus Reinforcing Culture. Or something.  It was actually the first ever self-learning machine, which he somehow built out of vacuum tubes as a student. In my mind, this makes him kind of a precursor to MacGyver, and I can certainly get behind that.

About Arto

Co-founder of the Funny Names Blog, Hawaiian shirt enthusiast, and holder of a funny name himself with too many vowels for any sensible person. Currently residing in San Diego, California, scouring through obscure documents on a hunt for more funny names.
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15 Responses to Marvin Minsky

  1. Arto, somehow we’ve experienced a mind meld, which will be revealed tomorrow. That being said, I LOVE the post.

    I feel the need to wear my geek glasses now. 😉

  2. Liz says:

    I applaud you for seeking out yet another funny name in science–love the Minskys of this world as they’re just regular Joes (and Marvins) in the game because of their smarts. None of this wealth or flash. (though maybe wealth, but that plaid shirt doesn’t say flash) He looks like a nice guy.

    That said, I understood very little of what you actually said up there. My consoling thought is that you probably didn’t understand much of what you were writing 😉 Here’s to brilliant minds!

    • Arto says:

      Saw the name in an article I read over the weekend and thought, “yep, that’s monday’s topic right there!” Haha. I must admit you are right, and I understood almost none of what I said, although this could’ve just been caused by 7AM Monday Syndrome.

    • Dave says:

      “Regular Marvins” really needs to become a thing.

  3. amb says:

    Matlock and MacGyver together in a single post? Oh, Arto. This is one of my favourite things you’ve ever written. *swoon*

    Seriously. You make me laugh, man.

  4. wdydfae says:

    Way cool! I read up on some areas close to this topic, back in days of the pop science craze for chaos and complexity theory. It rings a bell a little with some of the robotics guys at MIT, who were working on “artificial life.” One of them was Mitchel Resnick, who wrote stuff with fun titles. One was an article called “Lego, Logo, and Life” (using lego blocks and the Logo program to do lifelike robotics) and another was a book called Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams.

    Now I remember. Sidney Papert wrote the foreword to that!

    Minksi is neato keano!

    • Dave says:

      I love those titles! We need to find a way to institute that kind of title logic into our own. If only Marvin Minsky were here!

    • wdydfae says:

      Sidney –> Seymour

    • Arto says:

      Maybe I ought to delegate the task of science articles to you gentlemen who clearly have more of a grasp of it. On the other hand, it’s fun to talk about stuff you don’t understand.

      And Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams sounds like an accessible enough title for any book. I love turtles!

      • wdydfae says:

        No way! I was into some Pop science fads back in the day, but my comprehension of it was Cliff’s Notes level at best. It didn’t get much beyond staring at magnified fractal images and saying, “Keeeeeewwwwwlllll.” And anyway, “Lego, Logo, and Life” was about teaching robotics to kids with Lego blocks.

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