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Psychology should not be like physics


Losing students to lucrative careers
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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What happened is that you’ll find people who are rediscovering the linguistic theories of the 1940s as though they were completely new and what I’m worried about is that... just as in 1960, I... 1970s, we were developing new theories of artificial intelligence, we’re now entering a... a strange age in which people are building rather dumb robots that have beautiful facial expressions but have no idea what they mean and are condemning students to spending vast amounts of time trying to get these relatively simple robots to appear to do more complicated and more meaningful things.

So I'd like to see some changes here and the main problem I think is... is a larger problem, at least in the United States, that we don’t have very many ways to spot a promising student and offer him or her an opportunity to spend five or 10 years pursuing the most promising long shots. So the... the most able students right now have very little choice but to work for a law firm or a bank or something that will make money within the next year, at the cost of this very smart and original student not developing a new, novel, original, hard to prove theory that might take another 10 years to start yielding results.

So the world depression is bad in... in not just the usual ways people think of, that people don’t have enough money to get enough food. It also means that smart people aren’t given enough time to think deep thoughts, because they... nobody will pay them for sitting there apparently doing nothing for four or five years.

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: 1940s, 1970s, USA

Duration: 2 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 12 May 2011