Marvin Minsky, an 88-year-old American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, died Sunday at a hospital in Boston.

He co-founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory in 1959 and wrote several texts on AI and philosophy. Minsky was also an enthusiastic explorer of the human mind’s mysteries during his years at MIT.

The cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage, according to a statement released by MIT. Minsky was a professor emeritus at the institute’s Media Lab, which has an extensive interdisciplinary mandate to look into technology, design and multimedia.

Photo: Stelios Kampakis
Photo: Stelios Kampakis

The scientist used to believe that engineers would someday create an intelligent machine. He was already a highly acclaimed professor and mentor by the times when the field of AI was only filled with negative results and most researchers were pessimistic. However, Dr. Minsky did get to see the early days of the evolution of AI and often expressed his concern about rogue computers and killer robots.

Dr. Minsky was known for his theoretical contributions, although he was also an inventor. In his early years he developed a microscope to study brain tissue that later became a standard tool for other scientists. For him, intelligence only occurred if multiple agents operated in coordination, meaning that no single agent can be intelligent when acting alone.

Minsky’s MIT colleague and former student Patrick Winston said Tuesday that “multiplicities” was the word that best fit to describe his career. Minsky believed the word intelligence was a “suitcase word… You can stuff a lot of ideas into it.” Winston also used other words such as “emotion” and “creativity”.

In his 1960 paper “Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence” Dr. Minsk settled many of the routes researchers would take in the years to come. “We are on the threshold of an era that will be strongly influenced, and quite possibly dominated, by intelligent problem-solving machines”, he wrote. He added that anyone attempting to resemble intelligence in a machine had to solve five different categories of problems: search, pattern, recognition, learning, planning and induction.

His colleague Nicholas Negroponte wrote by email to the MIT community that the world had lost “one of the greatest minds in science”. Negroponte said Dr. Minsk had brought equal measures of humor, as well as deep thinking as he always saw the world from a very distinct perspective.

Source: Washington Post