Marvin Minsky

Marvin Lee Minsky (August 9, 1927 – January 24, 2016) was an American cognitive scientist concerned largely with research of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts concerning AI and philosophy.[12][13][14][15]

Marvin Minsky
Minsky in 2008
Marvin Lee Minsky

(1927-08-09)August 9, 1927
DiedJanuary 24, 2016(2016-01-24) (aged 88)
ResidenceUnited States
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationPhillips Academy
Alma materHarvard University (BA)
Princeton University (PhD)
Known for
Gloria Rudisch (m. 1952)
Scientific career
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
ThesisTheory of Neural-Analog Reinforcement Systems and Its Application to the Brain Model Problem (1954)
Doctoral advisorAlbert W. Tucker[9][10]
Doctoral students
InfluencedDavid Waltz

Minsky received many accolades and honors, such as the 1969 Turing Award.


Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City, to an eye surgeon father, Henry, and to a mother, Fannie (Reiser), who was a Zionist activist.[15][16][17] His family was Jewish. He attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science. He later attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He then served in the US Navy from 1944 to 1945. He received a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University (1950) and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University (1954).[18][19]

He was on the MIT faculty from 1958 to his death. He joined the staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1958, and a year later he and John McCarthy initiated what is, as of 2019, named the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.[20][21] He was the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Contributions in computer science

Minsky's inventions include the first head-mounted graphical display (1963)[22] and the confocal microscope[2][23] (1957, a predecessor to today's widely used confocal laser scanning microscope). He developed, with Seymour Papert, the first Logo "turtle". Minsky also built, in 1951, the first randomly wired neural network learning machine, SNARC.

In 1962, Minsky published a 7,4 Turing machine that he was able to prove to be universal. At the time, it was the simplest known universal Turing machine, a record that stood for about 40 years until Stephen Wolfram published a 2,5 universal Turing machine in his 2002 book, A New Kind of Science.[24]

Minsky wrote the book Perceptrons (with Seymour Papert), attacking the work of Frank Rosenblatt, which became the foundational work in the analysis of artificial neural networks. This book is the center of a controversy in the history of AI, as some claim it to have had great importance in discouraging research of neural networks in the 1970s, and contributing to the so-called "AI winter".[25] He also founded several other AI models. His book A framework for representing knowledge created a new paradigm in programming. While his Perceptrons is now more a historical than practical book, the theory of frames is in wide use.[26] Minsky also wrote of the possibility that extraterrestrial life may think like humans, permitting communication.[27]

In the early 1970s, at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Minsky and Papert started developing what came to be known as the Society of Mind theory. The theory attempts to explain how what we call intelligence could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts. Minsky says that the biggest source of ideas about the theory came from his work in trying to create a machine that uses a robotic arm, a video camera, and a computer to build with children's blocks. In 1986, Minsky published The Society of Mind, a comprehensive book on the theory which, unlike most of his previously published work, was written for the general public.

In November 2006, Minsky published The Emotion Machine, a book that critiques many popular theories of how human minds work and suggests alternative theories, often replacing simple ideas with more complex ones. Recent drafts of the book are freely available from his webpage.[28]

Minsky was an adviser[29] on Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey; one of the movie's characters, Victor Kaminski, was named in Minsky's honor.[30] Minsky is mentioned explicitly in Arthur C. Clarke's derivative novel of the same name, where he is portrayed as achieving a crucial break-through in artificial intelligence in the then-future 1980s, paving the way for HAL 9000 in the early 21st century:

In the 1980s, Minsky and Good had shown how artificial neural networks could be generated automatically—self replicated—in accordance with any arbitrary learning program. Artificial brains could be grown by a process strikingly analogous to the development of a human brain. In any given case, the precise details would never be known, and even if they were, they would be millions of times too complex for human understanding.[31]

Personal life

In 1952, Minsky married pediatrician Gloria Rudisch; together they had three children.[32] Minsky was a talented improvisational pianist[33] who published musings on the relations between music and psychology.


Minsky was an atheist,[34] a signatory to the Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics.[35]

He was a critic of the Loebner Prize for conversational robots,[36] and argued that a fundamental difference between humans and machines was that while humans are machines, they are machines in which intelligence emerges from the interplay of the many unintelligent but semi-autonomous agents that comprise the brain.[37] He argued that "somewhere down the line, some computers will become more intelligent than most people," but that it was very hard to predict how fast progress would be.[38] He cautioned that an artificial superintelligence designed to solve an innocuous mathematical problem might decide to assume control of Earth's resources to build supercomputers to help achieve its goal,[39] but believed that such negative scenarios are "hard to take seriously" because he felt confident that AI would go through a lot of testing before being deployed.[40]


Minsky died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 88.[41] Minsky was a member of Alcor Life Extension Foundation's Scientific Advisory Board.[42]


In 2016, Virginia Giuffre named Minsky as one of the men she was "directed to have sex" with on Jeffrey Epstein's private island.[43][44][45] As of September 2019, there is no independent corroboration of this, and there have been no civil or criminal claims made against any of the men.[46][47] Minsky's widow, Gloria Rudisch, denied that he had sex with any of the women at Epstein's residences and explained that she went with him on all trips as a couple and that they were "always together."[43]

Bibliography (selected)

  • 1967 – Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines, Prentice-Hall
  • 1986 – The Society of Mind
  • 2006 – The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind

Awards and affiliations

Minsky won the Turing Award (the greatest distinction in computer science)[37] in 1969, the Japan Prize in 1990, the IJCAI Award for Research Excellence for 1991, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute for 2001.[48] In 2006, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for co-founding the field of artificial intelligence, creating early neural networks and robots, and developing theories of human and machine cognition."[49] In 2011, Minsky was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI Hall of Fame for the "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems".[50][51] In 2014, Minsky won the Dan David Prize for "Artificial Intelligence, the Digital Mind".[52] He was also awarded with the 2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Information and Communication Technologies category.[53]

Minsky was affiliated with the following organizations:

See also


  1. Minsky, Marvin (1961). "Steps toward Artificial Intelligence" (PDF). Proceedings of the IRE. 49: 8–30. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1961.287775.
  2. Minsky, Marvin (1988). "Memoir on inventing the confocal scanning microscope". Scanning. 10 (4): 128–138. doi:10.1002/sca.4950100403.
  3. Pesta, A (March 12, 2014). "Looking for Something Useful to Do With Your Time? Don't Try This". WSJ. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  4. Hillis, Danny; McCarthy, John; Mitchell, Tom M.; Mueller, Erik T.; Riecken, Doug; Sloman, Aaron; Winston, Patrick Henry (2007). "In Honor of Marvin Minsky's Contributions on his 80th Birthday". AI Magazine. 28 (4): 109. doi:10.1609/aimag.v28i4.2064.
  5. Papert, Seymour; Minsky, Marvin Lee (1988). Perceptrons: an introduction to computational geometry. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-63111-2.
  6. Minsky, Marvin Lee (1986). The Society of Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-60740-1. The first comprehensive description of the Society of Mind theory of intellectual structure and development. See also The Society of Mind (CD-ROM version), Voyager, 1996.
  7. Minsky, Marvin Lee (2007). The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-7664-1.
  8. "Elected AAAI Fellows".
  9. Marvin Lee Minsky at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  10. Marvin Lee Minsky at the AI Genealogy Project.
  11. "Personal page for Marvin Minsky". Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  12. Marvin Minsky at DBLP Bibliography Server
  13. List of publications from Microsoft Academic
  14. "Google Scholar".
  15. Winston, Patrick Henry (2016). "Marvin L. Minsky (1927-2016)". Nature. 530 (7590): 282. Bibcode:2016Natur.530..282W. doi:10.1038/530282a. PMID 26887486.
  16. Swedin, Eric Gottfrid (August 10, 2005). "Science in the Contemporary World: An Encyclopedia". ABC-CLIO via Google Books.
  18. Minsky, Marvin Lee (1954). Theory of Neural-Analog Reinforcement Systems and Its Application to the Brain Model Problem (PhD thesis). Princeton University. OCLC 3020680.
  19. Hillis, Danny; McCarthy, John; Mitchell, Tom M.; Mueller, Erik T.; Riecken, Doug; Sloman, Aaron; Winston, Patrick Henry (2007). "In Honor of Marvin Minsky's Contributions on his 80th Birthday". AI Magazine. 28 (4): 103–110. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  20. Horgan, John (November 1993). "Profile: Marvin L. Minsky: The Mastermind of Artificial Intelligence". Scientific American. 269 (5): 14–15. Bibcode:1993SciAm.269e..35H. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1193-35.
  21. Rifkin, Glenn (January 28, 2016). "Marvin Minsky, pioneer in artificial intelligence, dies at 88". The Tech. MIT. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  22. "Brief Academic Biography of Marvin Minsky". Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  23. The patent for Minsky's Microscopy Apparatus was applied for in 1957, and subsequently granted US Patent Number 3,013,467 in 1961. According to his published biography on the MIT Media Lab webpage, "In 1956, when a Junior Fellow at Harvard, Minsky invented and built the first Confocal Scanning Microscope, an optical instrument with unprecedented resolution and image quality".
  24. Wolfram, Stephen (2016). Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People. Wolfram Media. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-5795-5-003-5.
  25. Olazaran, Mikel (August 1996). "A Sociological Study of the Official History of the Perceptrons Controversy". Social Studies of Science. 26 (3): 611–659. Bibcode:1989SoStS..19..127L. doi:10.1177/030631296026003005. JSTOR 285702.
  26. "Minsky's frame system theory". Proceedings of the 1975 workshop on Theoretical issues in natural language processing – TINLAP '75. 1975. pp. 104–116. doi:10.3115/980190.980222.
  27. Minsky, Marvin (April 1985). "Communication with Alien Intelligence". Byte. Vol. 10 no. 04. Peterborough, New Hampshire: UBM Technology Group. p. 127. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  28. "Marvin Minsky's Home Page".
  29. For more, see this interview, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 16, 2012. Retrieved May 11, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. "AI pioneer Marvin Minsky dies aged 88". BBC News. January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
  31. Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hutchinson, UK
    New American Library, US. ISBN 0-453-00269-2.
  32. "R.I.P. Marvin Minsky". Washington Post. January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
  33. "Obituary: Marvin Minsky, 88; MIT professor helped found field of artificial intelligence". Boston Globe. January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
  34. Lederman, Leon M.; Scheppler, Judith A. (2001). "Marvin Minsky: Mind Maker". Portraits of Great American Scientists. Prometheus Books. p. 74. ISBN 9781573929325. Another area where he "goes against the flow" is in his spiritual beliefs. As far as religion is concerned, he's a confirmed atheist. "I think it [religion] is a contagious mental disease. ... The brain has a need to believe it knows a reason for things.
  35. Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics, Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics, archived from the original on August 26, 2016, retrieved January 29, 2016
  36. Technology |Artificial stupidity Archived June 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  37. "Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88". The New York Times. January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
  38. "For artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky, computers have soul". Jerusalem Post. May 13, 2014. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  39. Russell, Stuart J.; Norvig, Peter (2003). "Section 26.3: The Ethics and Risks of Developing Artificial Intelligence". Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0137903955. Similarly, Marvin Minsky once suggested that an AI program designed to solve the Riemann Hypothesis might end up taking over all the resources of Earth to build more powerful supercomputers to help achieve its goal.
  40. Achenbach, Joel (January 6, 2016). "Marvin Minsky, an architect of artificial intelligence, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  41. Pearson, Michael (January 26, 2016). "Pioneering computer scientist Marvin Minsky dies at 88". CNN. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  42. "Alcor Scientific Advisory Board". Alcor. January 14, 2016. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  43. "Jeffrey Epstein's alleged 'sex slave' reveals the men she claims she was forced to sleep with". New York Post. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  44. "AI pioneer accused of having sex with trafficking victim on Jeffrey Epstein's island". The Verge. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  45. "Jeffrey Epstein Sent Girl to Governor and Senator for Sex, She Testified". Bloomberg News. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  46. Briquelet, Kate; et al. (September 16, 2019). "Jeffrey Epstein Accuser Names Powerful Men in Alleged Sex Ring". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 8, 2019. There was no hint or suggestion of anything sexual or improper in the presence of these people
  47. Levy, Stephen. "Richard Stallman and the Fall of the Clueless Nerd". Wired. It is far from resolved whether Minsky had sex with the woman
  48. Marvin Minsky – The Franklin Institute Awards – Laureate Database Archived May 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Franklin Institute. Retrieved on March 25, 2008.
  49. "Marvin Minsky: 2006 Fellow". Computer History Museum. Archived from the original on March 29, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  50. "AI's Hall of Fame" (PDF). IEEE Intelligent Systems. 26 (4): 5–15. 2011. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.64.
  51. "IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders". August 24, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011. Press release source: PRWeb (Vocus).
  52. "Dan David prize 2014 winners". May 15, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  53. "MIT artificial intelligence, robotics pioneer feted: Award celebrates Minsky's career". August 24, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  54. "Extropy Institute Directors & Advisors".
  55. "kynamatrix Research Network : About". Retrieved February 9, 2018.
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