Marvin Minsky

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”

Quick Facts

Born: 9th August 1927

Died: 24th January 2016

Nationality: American

Occupation: Cognitive scientist concerned largely with artificial intelligence

Known for: Being co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory and author of several texts concerning AI and philosophy

Childhood and Education 

Marvin Minsky was born in New York City, in a Jewish family. As a child he attended Fieldstone School and Bronx High School of Science, both in New York City, and then Philips Academy in Andover. In 1944, at the age of seventeen, he joined US Navy and served until 1945. After his time in the Navy, he continued with his education. At 1946 Marvin enrolled at Harvard University and graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor degree in Mathematics. He continued his studies at Princeton University, from where he earned his PhD in 1954. 


Marvin Minsky is most known for his work in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. After obtaining his PhD, he joined Harvard Society of Fellows. During his time as a Junior Fellow, he invented the confocal scanning microscope, which became popular many years later, after a sufficient development of technology. In 1957 Minsky moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he did most of his work on artificial intelligence and cognitive science. In 1959 Marvin Minsky together with John McCarthy founded the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In 1960 he published his paper “Step towards Artificial Intelligence” which focused on symbol manipulation and is by many considered the start of the research on artificial intelligence. Minsky was also interested in robotics acknowledge that many tasks would be simpler and safer if they could be done by an intelligent or remotely controlled robot. In 1969 Minsky together with Seymour Papert published the book “Perceptrons”, covering the topics or artificial neuron, artificial neural networks and the mathematical background behind the perceptrons. This book was the subject of many controversies. Whereas it was an important contribution to the research on artificial intelligence, it is sometimes claimed that the pessimistic predictions presented in the book led to the “AI winter” (a period of reduced interest in AI research in 1970s). Marvin Minsky also supervised numerous PhD students at MIT, a lot of whom also made important contributions to the development of AI. Minsky is also known for developing the theory of frames – a way of representing information as slots and the values filling them. Apart from being a scientist, Minsky was also interested in philosophy. His two books, “Society of Mind” and “Emotion Machine” examine the concept of natural intelligence and the way human mind works. In “Society of Mind” Minsky presents the mind as a collection of agents that are mindless on their own – a “society” of agents. In “Emotion Machine” he builds on this idea and touches the concept of emotions and different levels of thinking. It is worth mentioning that Minsky believed that there was no significant difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence and thought it was very likely that some time in the future computers would be more intelligent than men, and that it might even be possible for AI to try to take over the Earth. 

Awards and Achievements 

Some of the awards Marvin Minsky received for his work in the field of AI are: 

  • Turing Award in 1969 
  • MIT Killian Award in 1989 
  • Japan Prize in 1990 
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in 2001 
  • Being named Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 2006 
  • Dan David Prize in 2014 


  • Marvin Minsky was a talented pianist.