Marvin Minsky, a founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Project, which later became known as the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), has died. Minsky was 88.
An MIT spokesperson confirmed the news. Minsky died yesterday of a cerebral hemorrhage, the New York Times reported.
Minsky was one of the first researchers to work on artificial neural networks, a key technology in the modern field of deep learning, in which companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all very active. Companies train these neural networks on lots of data — such as photos — and then get them to make inferences about new data.
Minsky was born in New York on August 9, 1927.
In 1959, he and John McCarthy — the person who created the LISP programming language and coined the term “artificial intelligence” — founded the MIT Artificial Intelligence Project. Minsky served as co-director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from 1959 to 1974. In 2003, the AI Lab and MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science came together to form today’s CSAIL. CSAIL has had many spinoffs, including Boston Dynamics, Meka Robotics (both acquired by Google in 2013), Akamai, and Dropbox. In addition to his work in the AI Lab, Minsky was also part of the MIT Media Lab.
In 1963, Minsky invented the first head-mounted graphical display. Sure enough, the Oculus Rift headset, which follows in this tradition, is very relevant 53 years later.
In 1970, Minsky received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. In 1973, he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Minsky’s academic biography lists him as a founder of Thinking Machines, a supercomputer maker that received a multimillion-dollar contact from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to an Inc. article published in 1995. Thinking Machines’ hardware and software assets were acquired by Sun Microsystems in the 1990s after the company filed for bankruptcy.
Minsky has published several books, including “Semantic Information Processing,” “The Society of Mind,” and “The Emotion Machine.”
In an interview with the MIT Technology Review last year, Minsky derided the commercialization of AI in recent years.
“Big companies and bad ideas don’t mix very well,” he said. “A gloomy suggestion is to go back to 1970 or 1965 and look at the systems that were around then and the ideas that followed that and say, ‘Oh, there’s something very wrong here. Let’s get another Model Railroad Club and get another bunch of beginners to see what they can do and fire the experts.'”
Update at 6:41 p.m. Pacific: The MIT Media Lab has just published its own Minsky obituary.