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My mistake when inventing the confocal microscope


Learning machine theories after SNARC
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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In fact, we loaned the big machine to some students at Dartmouth. And it... so, it disappeared up to Dartmouth and about 10 years later, I thought it would be nice to collect it and see if it still worked, but no one could find it. So, this is the only trace – along with some photographs – of this machine, which was called the SNARC: Stochastic Neural Analogue Reinforcement Computer or something. Anyway, then I did my PhD thesis on theories of how to make a smarter machine which didn’t just make responses at random, but would look ahead and predict what would happen and compare different predictions and... sort of... that eventually turned into my six layer... Freud’s theory had three layers of this... this id, which is a very elementary kind of conditioned reflex learning machine and a superego, which is a self conscious high level machine; and the ego, which – in Freud’s view – is a rather passive process, which negotiates between ambitious goals that you want to do and primitive goals that... or fears or things that you have to do or... or try to prevent. Freud had wonderful... wonderful cognitive theories and... I had six layers instead of just three and that was... that came out in the Society of Mind book in the 1980s. But in the 1950s I worked on this... these reinforcement theories, which were inspired by the early theories of Skinner and... and those pioneers.

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: Dartmouth College, SNARK, Society of Mind, 1950s, Sigmund Freud

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 13 May 2011