Pioneering computer scientist Marvin Minsky dies at 88

Marvin Minsky, pictured in 2008, died Sunday of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Story highlights

  • Marvin Minsky was co-founder of MIT's artificial intelligence lab
  • He created the modern "vision of artificial intelligence," MIT professor says

(CNN)Marvin Minsky, the pioneering mathematician and computer scientist whose contributions to artificial intelligence rank him among the leaders in his field, has died, MIT confirmed Tuesday.

He was 88.
    The cause of his death Sunday was a cerebral hemorrhage, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    The co-founder of MIT's artificial intelligence laboratory and author of the influential books "The Society of Mind" and "The Emotion Machine," Minsky is widely credited as one of the fathers of artificial intelligence whose influence extended to the varied fields of optics, computer languages, robotics and psychology.
    "Marvin Minsky helped create the vision of artificial intelligence as we know it today," Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, said in a statement. "The challenges he defined are still driving our quest for intelligent machines and inspiring researchers to push the boundaries in computer science."
    In 1986's "The Society of Mind," he explored the foundations of intelligence, arguing, among other things, that it arises from the interaction of non-intelligent processes he called "agents."
    "Each mental agent by itself can only do some simple thing that needs no mind or thought at all," he wrote in the book. "Yet when we join these agents together in societies -- in certain very special ways -- this leads to true intelligence."
    The book itself was written as 270 one-page interconnected chapters, mirroring the theory itself.
    Minsky, who was born in 1926, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He graduated from Harvard University in 1950 and then went to Princeton to study for his doctoral degree in mathematics.
    In 1951, his first year of postgraduate study, he created what may have been the world's first artificial neural network, a learning machine inspired by biological brains.
    He called it SNARC: the Stochastic Neural Analog Reinforcement Calculator.
    It comprised 40 devices made of capacitors, vacuum tubes and a volume knob capable of learning simple tasks, he told the website Web of Stories.
    In 1958, he joined the faculty at MIT, and he co-founded the school's first artificial intelligence research team the next year. He later helped found the school's Media Lab, as well.
    The AI lab went on to become an influential center of research in the emerging field, although Minsky often lamented that despite decades of work, fundamental problems remain.
    "There's no machine that in any deep sense understands why you can pull something with a string and not push it," he told Web of Stories. "Every normal child understands that sort of thing very well."
    In addition to SNARC, among the inventions credited to him are the first confocal scanning microscope and the first head-mounted graphical display.
    He was awarded the Turing Award in 1970 for his work in artificial intelligence.
    "Marvin talked in riddles that made perfect sense, were always profound and often so funny that you would find yourself laughing days later," Nicholas Negroponte, who founded the Media Lab with Minsky, said in the MIT statement.
    "His genius was so self-evident that it defined 'awesome,' " he said.
    Minsky is survived by his wife, Gloria Rudisch Minsky, and three children.