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For almost 20 years I've been carrying around pages 104-118 of an Esther Dyson newsletter labeled, at the bottom of each sheet, "The 1985 Personal Computer Forum". It's a transcript of an after-dinner speech by MIT professor Marvin Minsky titled simply Artificial Intelligence. Much of the content appeared, in a different form, as the afterword to an early edition of VernorVinge's short science-fiction novel TrueNames. Parts occur in Minsky's Society of Mind. Half a dozen other fragments that I want to remember:

I've heard people explaining from time to time that there really wasn't any such thing, that artificial intelligence was just programs. And they were right, of course, because everything is just programs. That's called "nothing buttery." A program is nothing but a sequence of instructions, and a living thing is nothing but a bunch of atoms with various chemical bonds, and a machine is nothing but parts, and so forth. And that's a very important idea. People who don't believe that eventually get into very serious trouble, because then they end up believing that something comes from nowhere.

. . .

Have you ever had lunch with a writer and asked them how they write? They're always fidgety and embarrassed. Isaac Asimov is the master of this. He says that you sit in front of the typewriter and move your fingers. He's willing to face the whole mystery of that in its completeness and not pretend to know what to do.

. . .

You see, you can be skeptical of artificial intelligence because it doesn't write Beethoven quartets. But the real reason to be skeptical of artificial intelligence is that it doesn't know how to eat with a fork or chopsticks, or dress itself, or walk across the room. ... [N]obody has the foggiest idea, really, of how that stuff is programmed.

. . .

Anything you learned so long ago that you don't remember learning it seems obvious. It's the principle of amnesia, as I call it. Most of the things we do are things we learned before we were five or six; we can't remember them.

. . .

[C]onsciousness is like a door itself, between two big rooms full of hardware that you don't understand at all. On that side of the door is the real world ... on the other side is all of the machinery in your head, which works the same way. And the consciousness is just as thin as the screen on that CRT ... You have this thin veneer of consciousness representing your current goals and attitudes toward things.

. . .

What happens if you have a goal? You make subgoals. And if you have a subgoal you make subgoals for that. None of these are understood. They're all buried in what I call management. The number of pieces of brain that actually do anything like move your finger is very small. You'd be surprised at the number of people who think that the gift of playing the piano is in your hands. That's a joke. The hands are just I/O devices, and there's no difference between the nerves and muscles of a pianist and anyone else, except that pianists are stronger, you can believe. Never get into a fight with a pianist. They have terribly powerful arms.

(see also MeanMeaners (3 Jul 1999), BitsOfConsciousness (21 Jan 2000), VernorVinge (17 Sep 2001), ... )

TopicScience - TopicLiterature - TopicProgramming - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles - TopicThinking - TopicMind - Datetag20040325

(correlates: AppearVersusIs, UnfortuneCookies, LookingDown, ...)