Research


The Genesis Group is a passionate collection of faculty, staff, and students working toward the goal of understanding intelligence.

The vision of the Genesis Group is captured in a trilogy: The Strong Story Hypothesis and the Directed Perception Hypothesis, The Right Way, and The Next 50 Years: a Personal View. We describe the current status of the Genesis story understanding system in a white paper on story understanding.

The Genesis Group is part of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Members of the Genesis Group particpate in MIT's new Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Professor Tomaso Poggio is the Principal Investigator; I am the Research Coordinator. The center is dedicated to developing a deep understanding of intelligence and the ability to engineer it, ephasizing how it works, how it develops in childhood, how it is implemented in neurobiology, and how it is amplified through social interaction.

I frequently speak about the center and the work of my Genesis Group, most recently at a meeting of the Washington DC MIT Alumni Club.

The Center for Brains Minds and Machines emerged from I2, MIT's Intelligence Initiative, a campus wide effort initiated by Marc Kastner, Dean of MIT's School of Science, aimed at developing a broad scientific understanding of the brain and human intelligence.

The Genesis Group participated in the Belief Dynamics and Decision Making effort, which studied behaviors of individuals, groups, and governing bodies, and especially their interactions.

Case-understanding developments promoted by the BDDM effort laid the groundwork that enabled the group to study the role of case analysis in international relations through Explorations in Cyber International Relations, a collaborative MIT-Harvard research program.


This site was updated on 12 February 2016
Designer: Chiai Takahashi

Teaching

 

In the fall, I teach 6.034, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, a large class.

Grades are calculated in accord with several student-oriented principles. For example, because we want to encourage each student to compete with himself/herself and not with each other, we no longer compute a class average. Because anyone can have a bad day, each segment of the material is tested both in a quiz and on the final, and we only count the higher grade.

We who teach the subject are pleased to note that grades are correlated with attendance at lectures, quiz reviews, recitations, and tutorials.

Anticipating a shift of skill building to the on-line world, we have enriched the subject with what we call Right-now Talks, aimed at exposing exciting, up-to-the-minute research occuring at MIT.

In the spring, I teach 6.xxx (also known as 6.803 and 6.833), The Human Intelligence Enterprise, a class in which I focus on contributions that visionary thinkers have made toward developing a computational explanation of intelligence.

 

During the Independent Activities period, I talk on the subject of How To Speak. The talk helps people do a better job in lectures, theses defenses, and job talks.

The next offering will be in January, 2017.

If you can't wait, an aging version, lacking the latest material, is available from the Harvard Bok Center.

Awards

All of us involved in developing and teaching 6.034 and 6.xxx over the years are immensely pleased that our work on these subjects has been appreciated by students. Our collective efforts led to the 2011 Eta Kappa Nu Teaching Award for excellence in instruction, a MacVicar Faculty Fellowship in 2011, the Baker Award for undergraduate teaching in 2010, and the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award in 2006. Unknown, but heroic students went to a lot of trouble to make it happen.

We were also pleased to note that, according to a Bloomberg article, 6.034 is among Five of the Best Computer Science Classes in the U.S. Of course, what they meant to say was that 6.034 has had graduate-student teaching assistants that are consistently outstanding.

Books


During my book-writing phase, I wrote numerous editions of various textbooks and collections, 17 in all.

Free, online editions of On To Java, On to Smalltalk On to C and On to C++ are available via the website.

Pensées

Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky passed away on January 24, 2016.

Many years ago, when I was a student casting about for what I wanted to do, I wandered into one of Marvin's classes. Magic happened. I was awed and inspired. I left that class saying to myself, “I want to do what he does.”

I have been awed and inspired ever since. Marvin became my teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. I will miss him at a level beyond description.

Marvin was a highly creative visionary who believed that computers would someday think like we think and surpass us.

He always knew what to do next. He developed programs of research, he started laboratories, he taught inspiring subjects, he attracted and mentored pioneering students, he developed new concepts and invented new words to label them.

Marvin's impact was enormous. People came to MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from everywhere to benefit from his wisdom and to enjoy his deep insights, lightning-fast analyses, and clever jokes. They all understood they were witnessing an exciting scientific revolution. They all wanted to be part of it.

In Marvin's laboratory, we all worked on a time-shared computer with a few megabyes of magnetic memory cores. It was the biggest memory in the world. Wonderful things happened on that computer, but your cell phone today has 50,000 times more power. Of course, there was no internet, and no remote access. If you wanted to use the computer, you had to be there, so if you happened to live in the other Cambridge, you migrated to this Cambridge. If you happened to live in this Cambridge, you spent most of your time in the AI Laboratory. The laboratory had as many people at 3am as at 3pm.

For a long time, I was afraid to disagree with Marvin, thinking if I saw something in a different light, it must be the wrong light. Then, it occurred to me that if we switched sides on a subject, he could still crush me, so it was ok to disagree.

Marvin had a short attention span. Whenever I tried to explain an idea to him, he would guess what it was after a few sentences. Often his guess was a better idea. Once I explained that if we ever developed really intelligent machines, we should do a lot of simulation before we turned them loose in our world to be sure they weren't dangerous. “Oh,” he said, “and we are the simulation?” guessing the end of my not-yet-complete joke. “The simulation is not going very well, is it,” he continued.

Marvin had great patience with students but no patience with those who doubted that computers would ever be intelligent at a human level or beyond. In the early days, there were plenty of doubters, so there was a lot of public arguing. He would often dismiss the doubters as victims of the “unthinkability fallacy.” That happens when someone identifies something a computer can't do, and then offers an argument that boils down to “I can't think of how a computer could do x, therefore a computer cannot do x.”

Marvin thought it ironic that the doubters of the possibility have turned into worriers about the consequences. He didn't see a technical advance that would justify the change, attributing recent successes to faster computers.

Marvin was a total egalitarian. He didn't care what you looked like, what your gender was, or how old you were. He only cared about your ideas and abilities. He asked my colleague, Professor Gerald Sussman, to run the Laboratory's important “summer vision project” when Gerry was still an undergraduate. He asked me to take over as Director of the AI Laboratory when I was a newly hired Assistant Professor, infuriating the MIT administration. He didn't care. He told me I would only have to be director for a year or two. It turned out to be a quarter century.

Marvin's books are extremely clear and well organized, but his lectures were not. They were inspirational rather than tutorial; they were opportunities to see a great thinker think out loud. Every lecture or two, he would say something you would think about for a year. One day a student asked him about approaches to learning that involve the adjustment of numerical weights. He said, “The trouble with weights is that they can't talk about themselves.” I still think about that.

Marvin believed in multiplicities. Our thinking, he wrote, rests on many ways of doing things, many levels of reasoning, many kinds of description, many meanings of words, and many cooperating little agents. He said, “If you only have one way to think about something, you have no hope if you get stuck.”

Marvin liked to talk about “suitcase words,” such as intelligence, creativity, and emotion. He pointed out that all these words are like big suitcases into which you can stuff anything. Intelligence cannot be defined because it is a collection of capabilities, not just one. He once said that, sure, Watson (the Jeopardy program) is intelligent, but not intelligent in the ways we are.

In the early days, Marvin wasn't much interested in human intelligence, arguing that intelligence doesn't depend, as Ed Fredkin likes to say, on whether the machine is wet or dry inside.

Nevertheless, Marvin and his colleague, Seymour Papert, were interested in developmental psychology. Marvin liked the story about his daughter, Juliana, then called Julie, who hung around the laboratory with her twin brother Henry and her older sister Margaret. Someone was doing the classic Piaget egg-cup experiment, using Julie as a subject. You show the child egg cups, each holding an egg. You let the child watch as you take the eggs out of the cups and spread them out. “Are there more eggs or egg cups,” he asked, wondering if Julie would say “more eggs,” the standard early childhood answer. All were delighted when Julie actually said, “You will have to ask Henry. I don't have conservation yet.”

Later on, Marvin focused on human thinking and especially on Freud's ideas. I particularly like his thoughts on “K-lines,” short for knowledge lines. It is a theory that much of human thinking involves putting yourself back into the same mental state you were in the last time you thought about a similar problem or situation.

Among Marvin's contributions are seminal books, The Society of Mind and The Emotion Machine. These books are like diamond mines. Many of the gems in those mines remain uncut, so you have to work on them a while before you see their brilliance. That is why they will be informing us for decades to come.

Marvin received important recognition from all over the planet. His awards include the ACM Turing award, the Japan Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, and MIT's Killian Award.

In 2014, he received the Dan David Prize and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

My nomination letter for the BBVA award explains some of Marvin's contributions in more detail.

See also the following for more about his extraordinary life:

MIT News

Scientific American

The Boston Globe

The New York Times

The Washington Post

The Financial Times

26 January 2016

Who.i.am.not

I do not use social media. An imposter has created a fraudulent Facebook page with my picture and other material that attempts to deceive. Why anyone would want to do this is a mystery to me. I have reported the matter to Facebook and all they managed to do was lock up my almost-blank defensive Facebook page. If you have seen the imposter's page, I would appreciate it if you would report it as I have. Perhaps if there are enough complaints, something will be done.

Who.i.am
You can learn more about what I'm up to from both the Curriculum vitae and the rest of this home page.

Where.i.am

My office is room 32-251 in MIT's Stata Center, which was designed by Frank Gehry

Several friends and I started Ascent Technology, Inc., a company that develops products that solve complex resource-planning, resource-scheduling, resource-allocation, and situation-assessment problems.



I served three six-year terms as a member of The Naval Research Advisory Committee*, which advises the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Research on technical matters.

During my second term, while I was chair, NRAC focused on manning and on the concept of an all-electric Navy. One high-impact NRAC study, Reduced Ship Manning, led to the Smart Ship Program. Another, CVX Flexibility/Integrated Electric Power emphasized the need to move toward electric drive on our carriers.

* Alas, I have learned that NRAC, along with many other advisory committees, did not survive the sequester, leaving the Navy, strangely, with no analog of the Air Force Science Advisory Board or the Army Science Board, or the Defense Science Board.

Will.i.am

Will likes to see stuff at MIT whenever he is in town. This time I took him to see robots in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wearable computing in the Media Lab, and miscellaneous cool stuff in the Precision Engineering Research Group. It wasn't hard to find people to help out.

Continued...

What MIT should do

I believe technology will take university education through a period of instability—what Andy Grove would call a 10X period—as new educational technology is introduced for the first time since the invention of movable type. This period of instability coincides with a window of global scientific opportunity and engineering challenge.

Accordingly, I believe that technical universities that want to be important in 2050 should chart a new course now, which I lay out, somewhat telegraphically in a sample mission statement and in a fanciful interview, recorded in 2050.

The MIT FSILG Task Force

I have strong views about MIT's system of fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. During 2002–2004 I co-chaired, with Stephen Immerman, the MIT Task Force on FSILGs: Status and Future Development. The work of the task force led to a detailed report recommending a six-step plan and the creation of Project Aurora.

For the Record

The MIT150 Celebration

If you missed the symposia that were part of MIT150 Celebration, too bad. They were great. Fortunately, you didn't really miss them, as they are all on line.

In the Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything Symposium, I spoke in the History panel.

In the Brains, Minds, and Machines Symposium, I spoke in the Golden Age Keynote Panel. and the Language and Thought Panel.

The State of the Institute

From 2006 to 2012, I expressed concern from time to time about a drift of MIT away from mission, community, and collegiality. Now, however, we have new leadership, with a different voice, so I have moved the philippics to page two, preserved for the record, and focus page one on the future.

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