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Why I changed from bottom-up to top-down thinking


John Nash solves my PhD problem
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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I should mention that there’s one place where I tried to calculate what can be accomplished by loops of neurons that are arranged in circular pathways so that if you put a certain pattern in, it will sort of echo around and I showed that, mathematically, that under some conditions, the information that you originally put into such a loop will be gradually destroyed and the pulses will become equally spaced, and that’s sort of interesting, because I had trouble proving this.

And one day I ran into another graduate student named John Nash, and I said: 'How would you deal with this problem?' And he looked at my description of it and he said: 'Well, why don’t you expand that into a Fourier Series?' And I said: 'Oh, well, let me think about that'. I couldn’t figure out what he meant, but after a couple of hours I figured out what that would mean and then I did it, and I proved this theorem and…  so John Nash actually must have solved a lot of problems for other students around Princeton while he was working on his big theory of optimal strategies for games, but in particular, this was a problem I just casually asked him one day, and he promptly told me how to solve it, although he was too busy to actually solve it himself.

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: Princeton University, John Nash

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 09 May 2011