Marvin Minsky’s Marvelous Meat Machine
Steven Levy

So grateful you’ve written this, Steven! You’ve always had this knack for capturing the unique culture around Marvin that his students, heirs and co-visionaries have been carrying forward for decades now.

A few tiny tastes:
Gratefully I learned this news yesterday not from a publication, but from my friend David “Gumby” Wallace, who Marvin brought to my MIT AI Lab office one afternoon. Every once in a while a parent would bring their kid to meet Marvin — what else would you do with the sharpest, most insatiable kid you’d ever seen amid such a generous mind? David was 12, and another kid was just 2 but spoke like Orson Welles when he wasn’t nursing. I learned to write partly by watching Marvin edit his work on the ITS graphics systems — which, unencumbered by privacy or security as Marvin liked it, let everyone in the lab see anyone else’s screen from their own. I met my brilliant partner Don Hopkins when he came to visit the lab at age 14, wanting to finally see the computers he had been logging into from Maryland (using the easily guessed password of free software pioneer Richard Stallman). All of us grateful beneficiaries of planet Marvin.

I have too many personal stories to recount adequately here, but by now Marvin’s effect on world culture, g0ing back to Kubrick’s 2001, is unmistakeable.

Last night as my family watched scary, sexy Turing tests in the thriller Ex-Machina (with the Turing story Imitation Game still queued in the DVR), and among so many delights — from Futurama (robot Bender signing off “sayonara, meatbags!”) to Spielberg’s A.I. and last year’s hilarious Chappie — both about how well-designed social robots will imprint on their human parents — it has become clear our whole culture is in a deep dive just to catch up with Marvin’s mind.

And here’s Marvin when I last saw him face to face — improvising a Bach style fugue. So much of his career and life have been about expanding peoples’ lives by demonstrating the difference between “impossible” and “hard to imagine”. A few minutes with Marvin can change a whole life; as my friend, thesis advisor and mentor, he has utterly changed mine.