[SIGCIS-Members] Marvin Minsky quotation

Mark J. Nelson mjn at anadrome.org
Tue Sep 15 11:19:59 PDT 2015

Mary Murrell <marymurrell at fastmail.fm> writes:

> I was hoping that the list might help me with the source of a quotation.
> Marvin Minsky is often quoted as having said the following: "Can you
> imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn't talk to
> each other?"
> I have not been able to find any actual source for this. Citations, if
> they exist, are circular, citing back to a source that itself provides
> not citation.

Edward Feigenbaum says it was a comment Minsky made during a
brainstorming session in a working group Feigenbaum had convened on the
future of the library.

Feigenbaum briefly recounts that discussion in:

E.A. Feigenbaum (1989). Toward the library of the future. Long Range
Planning 22(1): 118-123.

The relevant paragraph:

"I have been describing the first era and the coming second era of
knowledge systems. Now let me move on to what I call the far side of the
dream. I like to use slogans and, needing a slogan, I created one for
this purpose: 'The Library of the Future'. In the U.S.A. we have now a
small national working group discussing large knowledge bases and the
library of the future, and planning the structure, the personnel,
the intellectual problems and the funding for such an enormous
project. This small working group includes Professor Marvin Minsky, one
of the founders of the artificial intelligence field, and several
other renowned individuals in the field. One day, we were having a
wide-ranging discussion of the intellectual concepts behind the library
of the future. We were putting ourselves into that library 50 years from
now, looking back on today. Professor Minsky said something that I
thought in jest, but which was quite profound. In his life out in the
future, he said 'Can you imagine, they used to have libraries where the
books didn't talk to each other?' The libraries of today are warehouses
of passive objects. The books and journals sit on shelves waiting for us
to use our intelligence to find them, to interpret them, and cause them
finally to divulge their stored knowledge. The so-called 'electronic'
libraries of today are no better. Their pages are pages of data files,
but the electronic page images are equally passive." (p. 122)


Mark J. Nelson
Anadrome Research

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