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Fun times with Marvin Minsky

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Marvin Minsky's warmth and kindness
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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So Marvin would always pretend like he was very logical and unemotional. So he would never... In those days he would never express... I mean, he was obviously fond of me, but he had this sort of German, you know, treat your students like minions kind of thing. And, you know, later when he became older he actually became much warmer with me. But he obviously did care about me. And at one point I was going through a difficult time emotionally with something and... But Marvin wasn't one to talk to me about something like that. But he sort of perceived I was, and I remember he found some place a double concave lens. And he came to me and I was like sitting there sadly and he handed it to me and he said, 'Here, this makes things look smaller.' That was the closest he came to getting involved in my emotional life.

But I always appreciated that.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Marvin Minsky

Duration: 1 minute, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017