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A short history of chess playing machines

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Making the most useless machine
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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In this period of three or four weeks that I was at Bell Labs, Shannon and I must have invented 10 or 20 different gadgets. One of the gadgets that I invented – which was really perhaps the most stupid machine of all – was I described a little box with a switch on it. And when…when you flip the switch on, a hand comes out of the box and turns the switch off. So, that was nice. And Claude had a machine shop and he actually built one and… somehow this machine got a lot of publicity because it was... most people thought that… that was perhaps the most useless machine ever made so far. Anyway, we collaborated on all sorts of theories, but mostly on just thinking of fantastic new gadgets.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Bell Laboratories, Claude Shannon

Duration: 1 minute, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 13 May 2011