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Farewell, Marvin Minsky (stephenwolfram.com)
182 points by lispython on Jan 27, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments

I wasn't aware that Danny Hillis was a student of Minsky's and that the Connection Machine mainframe series was created with brain simulation in mind. That's really cool.

When thinking about implementing the network topology for a large-scale brain simulation, the network topology should reflect the 3D spatial local-ness of the real brain (to avoid redundant N x N communication between units). One seems to either arrive at a fat-tree CM5 architecture or a 3D lattice of asynchronous processors (but this is not very general-purpose).


Not necessarily brain simulations, but generally connectionist AI software. Put a graph into the machine and have operations on the graph be computed in a parallel fashion. Propagate information over the graph connections...

Thinking Machines as a company struggled with defining the target market: was it a machine for AI algorithms or was it a more general machine. See it's use with Fortran, doing more traditional stuff, not AI.

But a 3D lattice is actually quite bad in the sense of having a very high graph diameter for the same degree (6) as the number of nodes goes to infinity, compared to other designs, though probably not so bad for low n. Still far better than a square lattice, of course. Wiring of processors in clusters and supercomputers is one of the main uses of graphs with low degree and high diameter (see [1]). I also know that twisted hypercubes were used for connection graph of nodes in supercomputers, because they have a number of nodes which is a power of 2, fairly simple and uniform routing rules (in general other graphs don't), large bisection bandwidth, low diameter, high (maximal?) fault tolerance, and more.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_the_largest_known_gra...

I was fortunate enough to be able to write software for the first version of the CM (the SIMD one). Although I was keenly interested in AI even back then, I viewed the CM as a great system for parallel processing, with good I/O throughput, and not for AI research.

I think there is a cultural disconnect to some of the complaints about Wolfram's post.

Wolfram and Minsky both have backgrounds in academia. In academia "self-promotion" is actually not generally frowned upon.

People really do expect you to bring up your own work whenever possible and connect it whatever issue is at hand. This is not considered rude or offensive or "bragging", anymore than if someone told you they're from New York City and you mentioned that you'd lived in Brooklyn for seven years.

It's a way for people to find common ground and show how much they share intellectually.

Thus, I'm pretty sure Minsky wouldn't be offended.

And yes, for the record I have found Wolfram to be somewhat self-aggrandizing in the past, but I just don't think this is an example of that, he's simply reminiscing over his history with Minsky and describing some connections between their work.

In an entertaining novel which explains not a few ideas from the 'Society of Mind', Minsky (coauthor Harry Harrison) introduces the idea of "microrobots that could chase mealybugs away". It's called 'The Turing Option' - lots of fun.

really nice thoughts, esp. about teaching and discoveries "marvinminsky said [...] that the best way to teach programming was to start by showing people good code"

that's in general one of three ways to learn: observe and immitate, trial and error, understand or repeat. That's the scientific method in a nutshell. Works small scale as well as bleeding edge. Understanding is kind of an elusive word for the exit condition of the recursion, tho. At some point where there is no way for repition, understanding means memorization of facts, sometimes insight is the epiphany that one went down the wrong road.

Hey everyone: What we can call Wolfram Derangement Syndrome—the vast indignation provoked in internet commenters by his vast self-reference—is off topic. Nothing so predictable can be interesting, and predictable rage reflexes are toxic.

The first few times this came up, years ago, it was worth noting. I laughed at the same parodies everyone else did. But by now, Wolfram's odd tic has long been commoditized, and it's our problem if we choose to dwell on it.

Wolfram has other things to say as well, and many of them—recently about Ada Lovelace, George Boole, and now Minsky—are interesting. Those are the things HN should be discussing.

It's a test for this community: can we stay focused on what's interesting? Or must we lose our shit every time the catnip is wiggled?

There are gems in this article that would stimulate a good HN discussion under normal circumstances. Let us put on our anti-troll suits and give that a try.

Maybe every HN post linking to something Wolfram has written needs an Official Wolfram Ego Bitching subthread, where everyone can say "Wow, guys, I just noticed that Wolfram has a really big ego and does a lot of inappropriate self-promotion!!!!". Then everyone can enjoy complaining about Wolfram's ego there, without it taking over the rest of the discussion. (This would work better if HN offered a way to "collapse" subthreads.)

In principle, you're right, and just not doing it at all would be a cleaner solution, but what are the actual chances of that?

Well, that's the test. I'd love to see the community learn how to do that. Perhaps it means fellow users gently nudging one another in the right direction.

We toy sometimes with the idea of creating an 'overflow' section of offtopicness, but it would be more interesting if HN could steer into the hardest problem, which is (to use your apt phrase) enjoying complaining.

The readership of online publications is open ended. You should not expect community or memory of past exchanges. Wolfram is irritating prick and that fact will come up frequently when people discover it again and again. Don't except evolution in discussion when the site is just stream of links.

This is actually a really interesting commentary on the nature of this type of platform. Is not the evolution of discussion the most desirable outcome here?

You put that well (edit: mostly), but HN is more than a stream of links. There's a community here, and it has emergent behaviors.

Thank you. Every time I read, "I never expected so-and-so to stoop so low," I think, "Well I wasn't inventing expectations of others, so I don't have this problem you have." This how-dare-so-and-so instinct grates on me.

I know an upvote is the usual protocol in these cases but just this time I'd say - what an awesome comment! Thanks dang :D

he could have left himself out of it, just once, out of respect

Wolfram is self-promoting even in goodbyes to the departed now? Yikes, I didn't think it could get any worse...

"By the standards of Mathematica or Wolfram|Alpha, the 1961 integration program was very primitive"

That is indeed quite distasteful.

Distasteful? He is saying that the Minsky's work is a direct ancestor to his own. If you read the rest of that paragraph he is praising and thanking Minsky for the foundation he laid.

Yeah, he says that – between the lines. He also never misses an opportunity to mention how brilliant he is and how his Wolfram products are the greatest tools in the world.

I did not find it to be inappropriate. He was noting his interactions with Minsky and the connections between their work which is a standard and useful thing to do in this kind of situation.

30 links. 27 links to Wolfram and his products. 2 links to Minsky's work. 1 link to a mathematics geneology site (who was who's grad student). The math geneology site (not Wolfram) is pretty cool. Otherwise this is a particularly distasteful way to put out self-aggrandizing plugs.

Edit: that math geneology site that shows all the students of Minsky (and their students, etc) -- http://www.genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/id.php?id=6869


Book by Minsky Society of the Mind -- http://aurellem.org/society-of-mind/

Paper by Minsky on finite automata --https://books.google.com/books?id=oL57iECEeEwC&pg=PA117&lpg=...

Wolfram is pretty shameless, but I don't think you're being fair to him here. The links to Wolfram Alpha are no different from you or I linking to a Google search, and in context the references to Wolfram's _A New Kind of Science_ speaks to Minsky's influence on his work.

Wolfram threads always fill up with comments like this, from people upset that he doesn't slosh out more credit to 3rd parties.

But so what?

We do ourselves a disservice to get so caught up in this social game.

Wolfram isn't being nasty; he's just sharing his own personal recollections and ideas, often quite interesting. Where's the harm?

Take the good, leave the social judgement aside.

Well, you know, when you are eulogizing someone its generally courteous to talk more about that person than about yourself. When you are promoting your books and "science", be plagiarizing and criticize those who point it out. Just try to put it on pause for the eulogies.

I totally agree. However, Wolfram is unlikely ever to read these comments, so they're kind of useless.

It's one thing to confront somebody when they're being rude. That can be good. But it's pointless to pretend "confront" someone who isn't even here, especially when they're basically famous for it.

I really find myself disagreeing.

Yes, I do believe Wolfram went overboard with his claims for "A New Kind of Science", but I don't think this very sweet blog post was in any way inappropriate.

It's not rude to reference your own work when discussing someone else's, especially when you're showing how much they influenced you and were important to your growth.

> This picture is from one of the last times I saw Marvin. His health was failing, but he was keen to talk. Having watched more than 35 years of my life, he wanted to tell me his assessment: “You really did it, Steve.” Well, so did you, Marvin! (I’m always “Stephen”, but somehow Americans of a certain age have a habit of calling me “Steve”.)

Unreal. You're so great, Wolfram.

Yeah this really irked me. He's reminiscing about someone who died and he really feels to need to validate his _own_ life's work. Who even knows if Minsky really said that.

What I would give to have Marvin Minsky be resurrected via cryonics and have him read this article.


"delusional egomaniacal douche canoe"

Please don't use inflammatory rhetoric on HN. (This is not an endorsement of Wolfram.)

Honestly, thanks for pointing out that what I said sounded inflammatory. The general civility and appreciation for thoughtful, measured posts is one of the best things about HN. I don't want to disturb that culture - it's all to rare.

His next book should be titled "The art of shameless self promotion". Feynman, Turing, Steve Jobs, Minsky...at least Wolfram is equal opportunity!

In one of his blogs, he went as far as to compare NKOS with the Principia.

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