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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And what a man he was …

(August 9, 1927 – January 24, 2016)


My friend, Roger Schank - many of you have heard him at Education Conference's in Pakistan - said about Minsky in John Brockman's Edge years ago.

Marvin Minsky is the smartest person I've ever known. He's absolutely full of ideas, and he hasn't gotten one step slower or one step dumber. One of the things about Marvin that's really fantastic is that he never got too old. He's wonderfully childlike. I think that's a major factor explaining why he's such a good thinker. There are aspects of him I'd like to pattern myself after. Because what happens to some scientists is that they get full of their power and importance, and they lose track of how to think brilliant thoughts. That's never happened to Marvin.


My interest in Marvin Minsky started with this amazing book:

The quote on the cover is from Isaac Asimov:
"270 brilliantly original essays … on how the mind works"


Marvin's writing was always easily understood in this collection,
(but I found him difficult in some later writings).

Here is an example from the book I've read twice.


This was soon followed by the
wonderful interactive Voyager CD of the book
(for the Macintosh). Sadly those CDs don't run any more.


It was 1997 and I attended Nicholas Negroponte's conference for a Young Generation that were going to be Citizens of A New World. Minsky was there, too, and I talked with him very briefly. He was leaving in the next few hours for a trip somewhere.

Later that night many of the participants had dinner together and I bought the Extended Edition of Perceptrons there. This was Marvin Minsky's book written with my hero Seymour Papert.

I had met Papert earlier (having attended two of his lectures, including one in Pakistan), and had gotten to know him well.

My young colleague, Farhat-Said Pervez, attended his lectures at MIT and I met him with her (and her husband, Anjum Pervez) that night again. I got him to autograph my copy of the book but, sadly, Minsky had left, so I didn't have his autograph.

After dinner we moved to a party dance floor at MIT and I met Gloria Minsky, Marvin Minsky's wife, wearing her fabulous red eyeglasses. I had a lot of fun talking to her. We danced, ate some Samosas during our break (they were cooked by the Indian students with one token Pakistani!), and chatted for quite a while. I said to her that I had missed getting Marvin's autograph for the book … and she said I should come over the next morning to his office and she'd meet me there. I said surely he won't be back tomorrow, and she said "No — but bring the book."

I arrived the next morning and she took the book and handed it to Marvin's Secretary, asking her that when Marvin gets back she should get this book autographed and posted to me. I gave them my address but kept wondering if I'd ever get that book back.

In 3 weeks I got the book by post. Wow!

We then sat in his office and had Coffee. She told me about her family. Her work. Her daughter's work at MIT. Then she asked about my life. I spoke to her about running away from Education. My life at sea in the Merchant Navy. And my recent Multimedia work. I mentioned to her at some point that my original family years ago was Jewish. She laughed and said, "You must have been a Minsky, originally." I asked her why did she think so … and she said when you are old you'll see how closely like Marvin your looks are. I just thought that was a crazy thing to say …


Now two of my friends from MIT tell me I look like him.
Here's Minsky at a Conference.


(It was an amazing experience to attend this Conference: Apart from spending time with Nicholas Negrponte, I also met Alan Kay and had a rather long conversation with him — and 18 years later I interviewed him at Beaconhouse School of Tomorrow Conference in Karachi last year. Another wonderful person I met, who is now a close friend of mine, was Shahidul Alam, the brilliant photographer, who is on the Board of National Geographic. Finally, I was also a partner at the student sessions with John Perry Barlow, an essayist, a writer, a human rights activist, and founder of EFF, who was the Lyricist for the Grateful Dead!)

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