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Thoughts from Oliver Selfridge Memorial

I attended the memorial service for Oliver Selfridge in Cambridge yesterday (March 15). There were lots of people there from the AI community, as well as friends who knew him from his interests in education, madrigal singing, gardening, skiing, sailing, poetry writing, and a few others. He was considerably more than a dilettante in all of these fields, and was know for his prodigious memory, his sense of wonder, and his desire to know what made the world work.

One of the speakers, Marvin Minsky, said that when meeting an incredible intellect like Selfridge, von Neumann, or Nash, he (Minsky) always concentrated not just on what the person said, but on trying to figure out how they were able to arrive at it. He mentioned that Oliver had an uncanny sense of direction, so that (for example) he was able to determine which way was North when emerging from underground after a complex subway trip. Minsky finally realized that Oliver was frequently checking the position of the sun in the sky, and the directions of the shadows. It turned out that he was doing this unconsciously.

Someone mentioned also Oliver's belief in the primacy of learning. He was quoted as having said (approximate quote): "A mind without learning is scarcely a mind at all", and it was this belief which informed his researches in AI.

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