Mind and machine

WHEN he was doing something—simulating on paper how a computer might solve one of Euclid’s theorems, say—Marvin Minsky often found himself improvising a nice little tune. He could only do that, though, if his hands were open. Why was that? Sometimes he could just sit down at the piano and play, out of his head, an original fugue. How? If he merely wanted to rearrange the imposing row of stuffed cows, dinosaurs and Ninja Turtles behind his sofa, his brain would whirr through millions of anecdotes, analogies, histories, possibilities and smidgens of common sense before settling on the line-up he perceived as “best”. Nothing was so fascinating as human intelligence. Physics, which he excelled at, was quite profound, but intelligence struck him as “hopelessly” so, an immense realm of the…

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