Tuesday, January 26, 2016

ironically enough...,

NYTimes |  Marvin Lee Minsky was born on Aug. 9, 1927, in New York City. The precocious son of Dr. Henry Minsky, an eye surgeon who was chief of ophthalmology at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Fannie Reiser, a social activist and Zionist.

Fascinated by electronics and science, the young Mr. Minsky attended the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan, a progressive private school from which J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the creation of the first atomic bomb, had graduated. (Mr. Minsky later attended the affiliated Fieldston School in Riverdale.) He went on to attend the Bronx High School of Science and later Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he studied mathematics at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in math from Princeton, where he met John McCarthy, a fellow graduate student.

Intellectually restless throughout his life, Professor Minsky sought to move on from mathematics once he had earned his doctorate. After ruling out genetics as interesting but not profound, and physics as mildly enticing, he chose to focus on intelligence itself.

“The problem of intelligence seemed hopelessly profound,” he told The New Yorker magazine when it profiled him in 1981. “I can’t remember considering anything else worth doing.”

To further those studies he reunited with Professor McCarthy, who had been awarded a fellowship to M.I.T. in 1956. Professor Minsky, who had been at Harvard by then, arrived at M.I.T. in 1958, joining the staff at its Lincoln Laboratory. A year later, he and Professor McCarthy founded M.I.T.’s AI Project, later to be known as the AI Lab. (Professor McCarthy left for Stanford in 1962.)

Professor Minsky’s courses at M.I.T. — he insisted on holding them in the evenings — became a magnet for several generations of graduate students, many of whom went on to become computer science superstars themselves.

Mr. Hillis said he had so been taken by Professor Minsky’s intellect and charisma that he found a way to insinuate himself into the AI Lab and get a job there. He ended up living in the Minsky family basement in Brookline, Mass.

Among them were Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist; Gerald Sussman, a prominent A.I. researcher and professor of electrical engineering at M.I.T.; and Patrick Winston, who went on to run the AI Lab after Professor Minsky stepped aside.

Another of his students, Danny Hillis, an inventor and entrepreneur, co-founded Thinking Machines, a supercomputer maker in the early 1990s.