Marvin Minsky, cognitive scientist and founding member of the MIT Media Lab, has been called the “Father of Artificial Intelligence.” His work, including some alongside fellow Media Lab founding member Seymour Papert, has been extremely influential in the study of artificial neural networks, especially building machines with the capacity for commonsense. One of Minksy’s most well known works is The Society of Mind, published in 1988, which is also the name of a course he teaches at MIT.

Just two years after the publication of The Society of Mind, Minsky was interviewed for the WGBH production The Machine that Changed the World. In the interview he summarizes his book:

The society of mind theory is basically that in order to make a machine with the kind of versatility and resourcefulness that we take for granted in people, a good way to do that is to package into that machine a lot of different ways to represent knowledge and a lot of different ways to exploit it.  And this leads to a certain difficulty, is there a central place in this mechanical brain that’s in charge of everything and knows everything. And I think what I show in the book is that that really can’t be, because if different kinds of knowledge are represented in different ways, then the parts of the brain, the parts of the machine that’s doing all this really can’t communicate with each other very well.  And so you get a very different picture of identity. And I can’t explain it briefly, but it’s a three hundred page book and in it I think I show all sorts of new ways to explain problems that have bothered psychologists and philosophers for a long time, like what does it mean for a machine to be conscious.

The interview was over an hour long, and a full, unedited version has been digitized and made available. Minsky discusses much more than his recent publication, answering questions across a range of topics, including:

–       the history of research on the workings of the human brain

–       history and development of AI research

–       common sense knowledge in humans and computers

–       religion

–       impact of computer development on AI and cognitive science

–       science fiction


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