Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Minsky Thensky


jimf said...

> He also believed: "Ordinary citizens wouldn't know what to do with eternal
> life."

You know, Marvin Minsky certainly had a hot-house upbringing as the
precocious son of a well-to-do New York Jewish family.
And he apparently made good use of his opportunities:
Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88
JAN. 25, 2016

. . .

Professor Minsky’s scientific accomplishments spanned a variety
of disciplines. He designed and built some of the first visual
scanners and mechanical hands with tactile sensors, advances
that influenced modern robotics. In 1951 he built the first
randomly wired neural network learning machine, which he called
Snarc. And in 1956, while at Harvard, he invented and built
the first confocal scanning microscope, an optical instrument
with superior resolution and image quality still in wide use in
the biological sciences.

His own intellect was wide-ranging and his interests were eclectic.
While earning a degree in mathematics at Harvard he also studied music,
and as an accomplished pianist, he would later delight in sitting
down at one and improvising complex baroque fugues. . .

Marvin Lee Minsky was born on Aug. 9, 1927, in New York City.
The precocious son of Dr. Henry Minsky, an eye surgeon who was chief
of ophthalmology at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Fannie Reiser, a
social activist and Zionist.

Fascinated by electronics and science, the young Mr. Minsky attended
the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan, a progressive private school
from which J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the creation of the first
atomic bomb, had graduated. (Mr. Minsky later attended the affiliated
Fieldston School in Riverdale.) He went on to attend the Bronx High School
of Science and later Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he studied mathematics
at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in math from Princeton, where he met
John McCarthy, a fellow graduate student.

Intellectually restless throughout his life, Professor Minsky sought to
move on from mathematics once he had earned his doctorate. After ruling
out genetics as interesting but not profound, and physics as mildly enticing,
he chose to focus on intelligence itself. . .

jimf said...

> He also believed: "Ordinary citizens wouldn't know what to do with eternal
> life."

There was another obituary, in **today's** NY Times, that I couldn't
help contrasting with Minsky's from yesterday:
Thornton Dial, a self-taught artist whose paintings and assemblages
fashioned from scavenged materials told the story of black struggle in
the South and found their way to the permanent collections of major museums,
died on Monday at his home in McCalla, Ala. He was 87. . .

Mr. Dial, the illiterate son of an unwed teenage mother, spent much of his
childhood in rural poverty in western Alabama and, after moving to Bessemer,
an industrial suburb of Birmingham, labored at a wide variety of occupations,
all the while making works from castoff materials that he came to think of
as art only when he was in his 50s.

In 1987, Lonnie Holley, a self-taught artist living in Birmingham,
showed William Arnett, an Atlanta collector interested in Southern folk art,
one of Mr. Dial’s decorated fish lures. The two men went to see Mr. Dial,
who, once he realized what Mr. Arnett was looking for, pulled a painted,
welded-steel sculpture topped by a stylized steel turkey out of a turkey coop.

“I knew I was witnessing something great coming out of that turkey coop,”
Mr. Arnett said in a statement issued by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation,
which he established to preserve and document African-American vernacular art.
“I didn’t know at the time that it wasn’t simply the sculpture that was special.
The man who had created it was a great man, and he would go on to become
recognized as one of America’s greatest artists. I can’t think of any important
artist who has started with less or accomplished more.”

Mr. Arnett championed Mr. Dial relentlessly, with remarkable success.

In the early 1990s, as Mr. Dial’s work began appearing in museum shows,
he gained recognition as a remarkable artist and storyteller, with a turbulent,
expressionist manner that drew comparisons to Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning
and Anselm Kiefer. . .

Thornton Dial was born on Sept. 10, 1928, in Emelle, Ala., on a former
cotton plantation where members of his extended family worked as sharecroppers.
His mother, Mattie Bell, was unable to care for him, and from the age
of 3 he was raised by his great-grandmother on the farm of a cousin. . .

Thornton picked cotton, drove a mule around a hay bailer, herded cows and
helped with the milking. Busy and energetic, he raised vegetables on small
plots scattered around the area. He rarely attended school.

“I went enough to learn a little bit,” he told Mr. Arnett in a series of interviews
in the 1990s for the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “They told me, ‘Learn to
figure out your money and write your name. That’s as far as a Negro can go.’”

When he was 12 he was sent to live with relatives in Bessemer, where he worked
on road crews, painted houses, loaded bricks and did carpentry. For 30 years,
he was a metalworker at the Pullman Standard Plant, which made railroad cars.
After the plant closed in 1981, he started making metal patio furniture with
his sons in a shed behind his house. . .

Initially he made art to please himself, or to ornament practical objects. . .

jimf said...

> He also believed: "Ordinary citizens wouldn't know what to do with eternal
> life."

But he will, if they got him to the freezer on time.