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Inventing the confocal microscope


Problems with new theories of psychology
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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My main interest was making… making a new modern theory of psychology, but it switched from neural networks and theories of how the nervous system worked to… to higher level theories of what are the nature of goals and how do you… what is knowledge and how does it help to solve problems, and what kind of search processes are better than others, and what does one have to know to… what about meta-knowledge? What do you have to know about problem solving in general to solve problems in particular?

So there was an interesting step, because the first year I was a junior Fellow, I was still interested in the nervous system, and one of the problems was that you couldn’t buy a diagram of how the neurons were connected or how they worked. And the reason for that was if you take a little piece of brain, like a cubic millimeter, then that’s room for maybe 100 neurons side by side in each dimension, so 100³ is a million. Well, it’s not that bad, but there’s something like 100 billion neurons in the nervous system, and there’s no diagram showing what 1000 neurons do, that didn’t happen till many years later with that worm that Sydney Brenner examined: Caenorhabditis… what’s…?

[Q] C. elegans is it?

C. elegans, and it has about 300 neurons, and they painfully mapped out where they all went.

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: Society of Fellows, C. elegans, Sydney Brenner

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 09 May 2011