A short email from Marvin Minsky – RIP


As a data scientist I regularly use results based upon the work of Marvin Minsky.

This is an email exchange I had with him about 6 years ago, when I was working in Education and deciding to go back to school for Graduate School.

On Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 10:53 AM, Peadar Coyle <peadarcoyle@googlemail.com> wrote:

Hi Marvin,
I shan’t bore you with how much of an inspiration and role model your work has been for me.
I’m a Mathematics and Physics Graduate student, with an interest in all sorts of problems.
I am particularly writing in regards your OLPC memos, I found them terribly interesting and important especially in regards the Linguistic desert in Mathematics.
Wow, thanks!  Especially, because I have not received many comments about those memos!
I’ve taught Maths in High Schools, and do find that the richness of the subject is destroyed. ‘The National Curriculum’ is held up as some sort of Biblical text and subsequently many students leave without a sense of what a researcher does, nor that Mathematics is a beautiful art form in itself.
Another aspect: although I had the privilege to attend outstanding schools (Fieldston to 8th grade, and then Bronx Science and Andover) — I don’t recall having had the idea (until college) that it was still possible to invent new mathematics.  (I did know there there still was progress in Physics, Chemistry and Biology — but didn’t have the clear idea that Mathematics was still Alive!)
 I used to be taunted as a teenager for wanting to use words like ‘non-linear’ or ‘negative feedback’. This can be discouraging even for ambitious students like myself. I feel that things haven’t got much better. Seymour Papert was correct that we teach quadratic formulas due to technological constraints. Frank Quinn (a topologist) has written a book (on his website) about mathematics education and computers. With demonstrations and Mathematica and visualizations, there is no reason that students can’t learn somethings about Dynamics, Moments of Inertia. Yes some of the integrals are terribly difficult – I even struggle with some of the algebra – but with facilities like Wolfram Alpha there one can learn to check ones work, and not be hindered by such algebraic manipulations.
I haven’t actually used it much, but it surely will be exciting to see what happens when it gets combined with systems (that don’t yet exist) which exploit large collections of common-sense knowledge.
  Gian Carlo Rota pointed out that it is not enough to be computer literate, one should be computer literate squared.
Did you know Mr Rota? I believe he was at MIT as well.
Yes, Rota was a long-time friend.
 Thanks again fro your comments!

I provide this without commentary, to just share how great it is that some of the most inspiring people in my world of Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics have responded to emails.
This link is to his Obituary.

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