Marvin Minsky: 1927-2016

By on June 29th, 2017 in Magazine Articles, Societal Impact

Minsky (left) was keynote speaker at ISTAS 2013 held at the University of Toronto, Canada. (Right: Steve Mann, ISTAS ’13 general chair.)


Marvin Minsky was a great friend and mentor to so many, in whose myriad company I humbly include myself, for this great and vivid person said that I could. His love of thought-provoking science fiction first drew us together. But Marvin’s wildly varied and unlimited interests soon forged other bridges.

I could count on Marvin to offer up some unusual perspective under almost any topic, from the nature of consciousness to technology to the rainbow arcs of history and culture. He was among the earliest to shrug off C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” mythology, that science and the humanities are mutually incomprehensible, leaping instead to set up collaborations across every spectrum, incorporating fun and literature and art in almost every project that he had a hand in, at the Media Lab.

Like all the top minds I have known, Marvin was a polymath, whose music and puckish wit seemed as important to him as any of the subjects that he taught (so well) at M.I.T. His cheerful, egalitarian ways made him approachable even by shy students. His legacy of free-thinking explorers spans the globe.

It feels strange knowing that he is now too far to call up or Skype. I should have done it more, when I had the chance. But Marvin seemed ageless, as if ready to talk Death into dropping all plans in order to become his student. Hm. A good idea for a story. I know Marvin would have liked that.


David Brin