Brains, Minds, and Machines: Welcome and Introductory Remarks

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MINDELL: Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to introduce and to welcome you to the MIT 150 Symposium on Brains, Minds and Machines. My name is David Mindell. And I'm chair of the MIT 150 steering committee.

And I just want to say a few words about MIT's 150th that provide a little bit of context for today's symposium. In 1853, William Barton Rogers came north from Virginia to pursue his dream of a new kind of technical education. An education that would mix the world of science and the useful arts, theory, and practice, what we have come to know as Menzel Montessori Mind and Hand.

Nine years later, eight years later in 1861, the governor of Massachusetts fulfilled Roger's dream by signing MIT's charter on April 10th of last year-- of that year, creating this unique and innovative educational institution.

Now 150 years and two weeks later, we're celebrating MIT's accomplishments in a whole variety of fields, of ideas, and inventions, that changed our world and helped define it today, and of the courageous professors, students, graduates, and alumni, who have gone forth from this place to make their contributions to the world.

The MIT 150 Celebrations include 150 days of events, concerts, other festivals. Today we're on the 117th day. And we've already begun to see, over the past 117 days, the emergence of tomorrow's MIT. One that's united by ambitious intellectual agendas and focused on both its core research domains and on the institute's relationship to the wider world.

Within the 150th anniversary, the Intellectual Core is a series that comprises the core of MIT. Thinkers, students, researchers, and professors talking about great ideas, contemplating the world, and perhaps, even making a little progress on some of the interesting problems. This is the essence of the 150 Symposia Series, the sixth and last of which we're opening today.

The other symposia have focused on Economics and Finance, back in January. Conquering Cancer through the Convergence of Science and Engineering in March. Women's Leadership in Science and Engineering, also at the end of March. Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything two weeks ago. The Future of Exploration in Earth, Air, Ocean and Space last week. And today's Brains, Minds and Machines.

Each of these symposia were chosen for the leading faculty, the exciting ideas, the new ideas, and the symposium's focus on more than one department and more than one school. Of course, they in no way cover the full range of the interesting research that goes on at the Institute, but they all represent cutting edge work that epitomizes what is best about MIT.

My thanks, particularly, today to professors Irene Haim, Tommy Poggio, and Josh Tenenbaum for their willingness to step forward and organize this historic gathering. And to all of our participants, and all of you for taking the time to be here to share your insights, as well.

On a personal note, I find this symposium particularly exciting, not least because I spent a good deal of my career studying the pre-history of cybernetics and currently work on topics of human and machine relationships and complex systems, but also because from the very first pre-proposal that we reviewed on the symposium, we saw how it coincides with the new intelligence initiative at MIT and represents a genuinely new synthesis. I could not think of a better way to culminate the MIT 150 Symposium Series than with this event.

Nothing could better illustrate MIT's seminal history in these areas, its synthetic intellectual culture, and the great promise for the future than what you're about to see in the following two days.

I'll now introduce the Dean of Science at MIT Mark Kastner. Thank you.

KASTNER: Thank you, David. David said it well. This is an extremely exciting topic. I love it, in particular, because in addition to the deep intellectual challenges, the new Intelligence Initiative has already involved faculty members from all of the five schools at MIT, the School of Science-- with its Brain and Cognitive Science department, School of Engineering, obviously, but also the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, where linguistics and philosophy and economics sit, the Sloan School of Business and the School of Architecture, Urban Planning which houses the Media Lab. So this is an intellectual challenge which draws together faculty members from all across MIT and that makes it very exciting.

So this problem has a great history at MIT, but also has a great future at MIT.

I want to add my thanks to Professors Heim, Poggio, and Tenenbaum and a special thanks to Lore and Pat McGovern and the McGovern Institute for hosting the reception tomorrow.

So on with the show, it should be fun.


So on behalf of my co-organizers Irene Heim and Josh Tenenbaum, and all the MIT 150 organization, and people of my group that will be helping you around in the next couple of days, I would like to welcome you to this symposium and to this first panel of today.

We are in a typical, gritty MIT classroom. We kept you outside in the heat, just to emphasize the point. We are very close to where the old barracks were, Building 20. Back in the 50s and 60s, there was a remarkable intellectual activity in the old country that started around the new physics and engineering of electronics and information processing.

And if MIT was one of the main centers of this whirlwind of activity, Building 20 was really the center of it. Serving as a magical incubators for a number of fields as diverse as information theory, cybernetics, neural networks, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience.

Researchers in the building included Claude Shannon, Norbert Weiner, Walter Pitts, McCulloch, Noam Chomsky, Morris Halle, Jerry Lettvin, Marvin Minsky. And the intellectual ferment eventually converged in the ambitious attempt to understanding intelligence and replicating it in computers and machines.

Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert were key in starting the new field of artificial intelligence. Noam Chomsky and David Marr pioneered linguistics, and cognitive science, and computational neuroscience.

And I would like to remember in particular, Jerry Lettvin who died about a week ago. He was part of that group. He was one of the giants in this MIT history of research between the brain and the mind. He had the unique culture. He was unique. He was loved by every body. We all miss him a lot.

Artificial intelligence started 50 years ago about. Machine learning started growing under the name of neural networks about 25 years ago. And academic research in these two areas is one of the main reasons for the emergence in the last five years, I'd say, of remarkably successful applications, commercial and not commercial, like Deep Blue, Google search, Kinect, Watson, Mobileye.

Each of these systems, computers that play chess, search the web, and recognise human gestures, answer to Jeopardy, allow cars to see, is at human level performance in a narrow domain. But none of these systems can be said to be intelligent, is intelligence. And the problem of intelligence, and of how the brain produces intelligence, and how to make real intelligent machines is still wide open.

So the main theses to be discussed in this symposium, the way Josh and I thought about it, is that a new effort in curiosity driven research, basic research, is needed in order to understand intelligence and understand the brain. That this new basic research should, this time, not only rely on computer science, but also integrated with neuroscience and cognitive science. And it should also integrate, tightly, different aspects, facets, of intelligence, such as vision, planning, language, social intelligence.

So I believe that 50 years later, it is the time to try again. This symposium is a way to find out whether we all agree that it is indeed time to try again. And if so, how.