The Genesis Group

To better understand our intelligence in general, and our keystone story understanding competence in particular, my students and I formed The Genesis Group. You can find detailed descriptions of what we do at the Genesis page and learn more about why we do it in Moonshot, below.

Moon Shot

Copernicus taught us about the solar system. Darwin did the same for evolution. Then, Watson and Crick determined the structure of DNA. Collectively they answered fundamental questions about who we are. Now, we can realistically dream of another scientific achievement of equal importance: constructing a top-to-bottom, computational account of our own intelligence.

My students and I want to do it now because we are curious, because the problems are hard, because the problems are exciting, and because we need a better understanding of ourselves and each other and the forces that make us what we are.

We need to do it now because the scientific answers will revolutionize the engineering of intelligent systems. Applications with humanlike intelligence will emerge and empower in education, health care, policy development, business, energy, the environment, cybersecurity, and all the other high-impact areas with unsolvable problems that we must solve.

We can to do it now because we are asking better questions; because computer power is now effectively unlimited; because of encouraging progress in the contributing fields; because of maturing techniques for studying the neural substrate; and because there is immense student interest.

Our better questions include: How are we different from other species? And what are the competences we share with other species such that the difference matters.

Our answer is that we do, in fact, have a differentiating, keystone competence: we build complex, highly nested symbolic descriptions of situations and events. Together with the competences we share with other species, the keystone competence enables story telling, story understanding, and story composition, and all that enables much, perhaps most, perhaps all of education.

We may be wasting our time, of course, but the potential reward is that 1,000 years from now, everyone may say that we took a major step toward understanding our own intelligence.

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.

Copyright © 2016 Patrick Henry Winston
This site was updated on 24 September 2016
Designer: Chiai Takahashi



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 (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.


All of us involved in developing and teaching 6.034 and 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. Jessica Noss, for example, was the 2016 winner of the EECS Carlton E. Tucker Award for outstanding teaching as a graduate-student teaching assistant.


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.

The Faculty News Letter

I am on the board of the MIT Faculty News Letter, the voice of the MIT faculty. In that capacity I have contributed substantially to several editorials, including two on MITx, MIT's on-line initiative:

MITx discusses pros and cons of going on line.

What's Next with MITx comments on possible futures and suggests questions that should be asked.

I also contributed substantially to an editorial on the Abelson Report:

Not Blameless but Not to Blame comments on lessons to be learned from Professor Hal Abelson's committee's Report to the President: MIT and the Prosecution of Aaron Swartz

I also contributed several Teach Talk articles:

Skills, Big Ideas, and Getting Grades Out of the Way explains how we give students two shots at showing they know the material.

Looking at the Numbers looks at the correlation between lecture attendance and grades.

Dialog on Right-Now Talks describes an experiment aimed at exposing students to what's going on in research right now.

And finally, a Phillipic against the idea of a faculty senate.


Column 3
Hazardous to your health
A Tale of Torn Tendons

24 September 2016 Breaking news

It's over. Victory. See the end of the story, bottom right.

27 April 2016 S-14 D

I went out for my constitutional 3-to-5k, almost daily run, carefully avoiding all the roots and rocks on my wooded route. Then, I came home, puttered around a bit and, crash, tripped on step. There was excruciating pain, but only for maybe 15 seconds or so. It still hurt quite a bit to move during the next few days, especially getting up to a vertical position, but I wasn't too concerned when my heath care provider said it would be more than two weeks before I could see a doctor.

I staggered over to my classes using my father-in-law's second-best walker and announced to my students I had a “sports-related injury,” confessing that I tripped on a step. It seemed much less embarrassing, somehow, to speculate that it was a “sports-related injury,” and because it was right after running, Karen (spouse) assures me there was a connection.

5 May 2016 S-6 D

Then, just to be sure I had nothing more than strained quadriceps, I called again, hoping I could get an appointment at least with a nurse. But then, I was granted a miracle: there was a cancelation; I could see a real-live doctor!

My escort to the examination room asked what happened. “Oh, I strained my quads playing rugby,” I said, followed immediately by “just kidding.”

The examination didn't go well. The doctor poked around a little, seemed upset that he couldn't get a patellar reflex, and sent me to the emergency room. When I got there they wanted to know if I had chest pain. I said no and wanted to say I was anticipating a pain in another body part.

Curious onlookers kept looking at me in my ER cubicle. I later found that the rugby story had made it into the record.

I flunked a certain strength test, so I was scheduled for an MRI next day. I thought that would be like an x-ray. Maybe a few minutes to get set up and a second or two of beam. The operators thought it would take an hour a leg, but I was good at holding still so it only took an hour total. The machine sounded like a jackhammer most of the time.

A few hours later came the bad news: transected quadriceps tendons, both legs. Sounds bad. I prefer “torn.” The surgeon (terrific) wanted to do the repairs the same day; it had already been more than a week since the big event and eventually the tendons start to withdraw, making repairs harder. I wanted to wait a week so I could do my final two classes of the term. Then, we did what has to be done in a successful negotiation (teachable moment for my class), we worked hard to understand each other's point of view, we acknowledged that the other side's point of view was legitimate, and compromised. I would do my Monday class, he would work on me the following Wednesday, so I would miss the final class, but not to worry, I would be ably represented by my incredible TAs, Jessica Noss, Nicole Seo, and Rebecca Kekelishvili, along with Kris Brewer (also incredible), who helpfully agreed to record the term-project presentations so I could watch them later.

11 May 16 Surgery day

I showed up at noon and waited. The anesthesiologist came by to discuss options. “You have two,” he said, “general or spinal.”

“What about the whiskey option,” I said.

“Well, 150 years ago, that was the only option, but we don't offer it any more. Not enough demand.” I could see the day was going to be fun.

“Ok, I'll go for the spinal, that way I can supervise.”

“Well, you won't do much supervising. We also give you a sedative, so you will be half asleep.”

“Hmmm.” I thought to myself. “It will be much like a faculty meeting. But still, there will be some sense of participation.” In the end, I wasn't even half awake, but maybe just as well.

Anyway, all seemed to go well with my degloved tendons (technical term). Now I just have to deal with having my legs in immobilizers that keep them completely straight for a month. Try getting out of bed in that condition sometime. It is a challenge at first, especially when you are constantly thinking about how a slip will ruin some very nice surgical work.

There's more; see the rest of the story.

Will they take over

Links to WCVB TV Chronical show devoted to concerns about the future of AI, first aired 2 March 2016.

  • Segment 1
  • Segment 2
  • Segment 3
  • Segment 4

    Most recent pensées
    The General Patton diet
    Favorite pensées
    The Arcosanti file:
      Great works
      The MIT 100
      The Infinite Connection Advisor
      The End of Live Lectures?


    Column 4

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

    I do not use social media. For a time, there was a fraudulent Facebook page with my picture and other material that attempted to deceive. Now I have a defensive Facebook page saying that I do not use Facebook or other social media.

    Why do imposters do what they do? Some may be psychotic. Many are criminals attempting to extract personal information from “friends” via a form of so-called spear phishing.
    You can learn more about what I'm up to from both the Curriculum vitae and the rest of this home page.

    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 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.


    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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