Marvin Minsky and HAL 9000

Marvin Minsky, a mathematician, died Sunday, January 24 at the age of 88. He left behind an impressive legacy that permeated many fields, from computer science to robotics, whose ideas were even represented on screen. Minsky was a mathematician and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence (A.I.). He compared the computations performed by a human brain to those done by the circuits of a computer. Minsky was an MIT professor, co-founder of the legendary MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and was awarded the Turing Award, the highest honor in computer science, in 1969. He once had lunch with Einstein.

Minsky served as an advisor to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which featured perhaps the most memorable depiction of A.I.—HAL 9000. One of the first electronic learning machines was built by Minsky, so he was well qualified to advise. Helping to determine what a computer which could speak intelligently would look like, he advised that it would be made up of many black boxes.

Minsky, a New York native, was based in Boston and spoke as part of the Sloan-supported Science on Screen series at the Coolidge Corner Cinema introducing 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Minsky was on a Sloan Foundation panel about the film at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Actor and director Matthew Modine; engineer and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin; writer Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan; and Science Friday host Ira Flatow joined him. The beginning of this seminal conversation, which took place at Pace University, is available to stream below.

An article containing original research and artifacts from the making of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is currently being written by Museum of the Moving Image curator Barbara Miller, and will be published by Science & Film in February.