Marvin Minsky is one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence. He is widely recognized for his contributions to both symbol manipulation and to brain mimicry, and perhaps most importantly to the connection between them. His work on machine learning, on systems integrating robotics, language, perception and planning, as well as on frame-based knowledge representation, shaped the field of artificial intelligence.
Minsky’s work on artificial intelligence through brain mimicry began with his PhD thesis and continued through his work on perceptrons, which are simple computational devices. Already in 1951, he built a stochastic neural network reinforcement learning system, the first hardware implementation of an artificial neural network. In 1969, Minsky proved, with Seymour Papert, some fundamental limits of early neural network models.
His seminal paper, “Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence” (published in 1961), established symbol manipulation, an approach to artificial intelligence based on symbolic knowledge representation, to be at the center of any attempt at understanding human-level intelligence. According to Minsky, the components of symbolic approaches to artificial intelligence are: heuristic search, pattern recognition, learning, planning and induction.
In 1974, Minsky published a landmark paper entitled “A Framework for Representing Knowledge.” This seminal paper introduced the notion of frames, a way of representing hierarchical relations between concepts. The theory of frames offered not only a fresh way of modeling human thinking, but also had high impact on artificial intelligence as well as in cognitive psychology. This paper has also influenced the object-oriented programming paradigm.
In the early 1970s, Minsky, with Seymour Papert, initiated his theory of how the mind works, the society of mind. The society of mind theory views the human mind and any other naturally evolved cognitive systems as a vast society of cooperative simple processes called agents, no one of which is intelligent by itself. According to this theory, these processes are the fundamental thinking entities from which minds are built. Minsky’s 1987 book The Society of Mind will continue to serve as a rich source of ideas to be mined for years to come.