How to make yourself smarter

by Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70 on October 9, 2011 · 0 comments

in Prof. Winston's Ideas

Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

It happened again. Marvin Minsky guessed my idea before I had half explained it.

I was talking with him about what would happen if smart computers took over. The subject comes around like a comet, every 20 years or so, this time stimulated by this year’s Watson and next year’s 100th anniversary of Turing’s birth.

“Well,” I said, “really smart robots could be incrediby dangerous; we better not turn any of them loose before we do a lot of simulation.”

“Oh,” he said, “and we’re the simulation?”

One or two decades ago, Danny Hillis wandered into my office and said, “Marvin has a short attention span.”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Have you noted that he will often guess your idea before you’re half through?”

“Yes, generally,” I agreed.

“And his guess is often better than the idea you were trying to explain?”

“Just about always,” I regretted.

“Do you talk to yourself when you solve problems?” he asked.

“Yes, certainly.”

“Well,” Danny said, “maybe that inner conversation does what talking to Marvin does—the words and phrases uncover a sequence of improving ideas.”

We agreed that it is good to talk to yourself, and even better to talk to someone else. It makes your ideas better. Be careful about talking with yourself out loud though. Unless you are wearing a Bluetooth device, people may think you’re strange.


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