Marvin Minsky and the future of the workplace


Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence whose work helped create the personal computer and the Internet, died in Boston over the weekend at the age of 88.

The son of a noted NYC ophthalmologist, Minsky attended a string of private science and prep schools, then Harvard and Princeton, before settling in as a professor at MIT. There, with colleague John McCarthy, Minsky founded the school’s Artificial Intelligence Project – this was 1959 – later dubbed the AI Lab.

Long before that, Minsky had decided there was little difference between human thinking and the processes of machines, and he began imagining ways in which computers could be endowed with something approaching intelligence. Along the way, he helped inspire a generation of computer and software designers, paved the way for what would become the open-source software movement and helped build the original ARPAnet, the forerunner of the Internet.

His AI mantra: Don’t look for the silver bullet. Understand that artificial intelligence, like the brain, will involve mastering many different problem-solving processes.

Minsky’s death closely follows the close of the World Economic Forum, at which world business and political leaders huddled to contemplate what they called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the coalescing of the once-disjointed disciplines of machine learning, robotics, biotech, nanotech, 3-D printing and others.

As part of the conference, the WEF asked 800 top executives to predict what technical and sociological tipping points would occur in the near future. A full 75 percent pointed to artificial intelligence and predicted computers and robots would replace a wide range of human-performed functions by 2025.

No surprise, perhaps, that the CEOs thought CEOs were the group least likely to be replaced by machines, with a ranking of just 1.5 percent. The next best news is for social workers, whom only 2.8 percent thought were in danger of job losses from machines.

Other low scorers: EMTs, app developers and musicians.

On the other end of the spectrum, the survey suggests administrative assistants (96%), commercial painters (75%), telemarketers (99%) – even bartenders (77%) – might want to consider other career options.

Check out this great info graphic from Quartz for more. The WEF’s more seminal jobs report is here.