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Marvin Minsky’s Legacy of Students and Ideas

Deciphering how brains and machines think and learn

2 min read
Marvin Minsky’s Legacy of Students and Ideas
Photo: Hank Morgan/Science Faction/Corbis

Geniuses are meat machines—that’s how Marvin Minsky once characterized human beings—just like the rest of us, only much more efficient. And Minsky, who passed away in January, was certainly one of the most efficient meat machines this century or the last has ever seen.

There are the curriculum vitae facts of his genius: the degrees in mathematics from Harvard and Princeton; the cofounding, with John McCarthy, of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory at MIT; the invention of the first head-mounted graphical display, the confocal microscope, and the first randomly wired neural network machine. He was a pioneering computer scientist, cognitive scientist, and roboticist, a fellow of IEEE and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of numerous honors and awards, among them the Turing Award, the IEEE Computer Society’s Computer Pioneer Award, and the Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin Medal. He left his mark on every field that captured his interest, moving through several with seeming ease before finding his life’s work: creating a theoretical framework in which to build machines that could understand as well as calculate.

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The Future of Deep Learning Is Photonic

Computing with light could slash the energy needs of neural networks

10 min read
Image of a computer rendering.

This computer rendering depicts the pattern on a photonic chip that the author and his colleagues have devised for performing neural-network calculations using light.

Alexander Sludds

Think of the many tasks to which computers are being applied that in the not-so-distant past required human intuition. Computers routinely identify objects in images, transcribe speech, translate between languages, diagnose medical conditions, play complex games, and drive cars.

The technique that has empowered these stunning developments is called deep learning, a term that refers to mathematical models known as artificial neural networks. Deep learning is a subfield of machine learning, a branch of computer science based on fitting complex models to data.

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