My Really, Really Brief Encounter with Marvin Minsky

With Marvin Minsky’s passing, I remember I do have a Marvin Minsky story. It’s a short story, since I don’t recall encountering him in person even though I spent some time in the MIT AI Lab as an undergrad (oddly, some of that time was spent writing for my short story course — those $10,000 Lisp workstations made good word processors).

My encounter with Professor Minsky was before that, on the phone, when I worked at the MIT Microcomputer Center, which was basically their on-campus PC store. He called up and asked some details about a Mac. Then he asked my name and said “I’m Marvin Minsky,” and thanked me for my help. That’s it, end of story.

But you could say I felt his presence everywhere — the existence of the AI Lab, run by one of his students, his students who taught some of my courses, the course paper I wrote worth 50% of my grade on his book Society of Mind (the instructor actually liked the paper, even though I wrote it in such a hurry one paragraph trailed off without ending, like this…).

And I thoroughly enjoyed his neural-network-dissing book Perceptrons, coauthored with Seymour Papert of Logo fame, especially the second edition preface that, as I recall, stated they were essentially reprinting the first edition because no advances had been made in the field. That was hilarious.