Solomonoff on AI

Source: NYTimes, Jan 2010

As a child Ray Solomonoff developed what would become a lifelong passion for mathematical theorems, and as a teenager he became captivated with the idea of creating machines that could learn and ultimately think.

In 1952 he met Marvin Minsky, a cognitive scientist who was also exploring the idea of machine learning, and John McCarthy, a young mathematician. And within four years, they and seven other scientists, as part of the original Dartmouth Summer Research Project, had founded a new field and given it a name: artificial intelligence.

The conference proved to be a watershed both for the field of artificial intelligence (Dr. McCarthy, a Dartmouth College mathematician at the time, coined the term) and for modern computing. It laid out a proposal for a program of study, stating, “The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”

“Ray did early work on the theoretical foundations of learning systems, focused on understanding how to generate and assign probabilities to sequences of symbols, which could be mapped to the challenge of predicting what comes next, given what you’ve seen so far,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft computer scientist and a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

“Beyond his core technical work,” Mr. Horvitz, added, Mr. Solomonoff was a “passionate proponent of the probabilistic approach to A.I., on the promise of building intelligent computing systems that could learn and reason under uncertainty.”

Mr. Solomonoff later turned his attention to the consequences of artificial intelligence. In 1985 he wrote a paper that speculated on the cost and the time it would take to develop a machine with many times the intelligence of a group of humans. He called this the “infinity point.”

The idea predated the prediction of the computer scientist Vernor Vinge, who in 1993 speculated on a similar evolution in machine intelligence, which he called “the singularity.”

Related Resources:

Ray’s doodles, date indeterminate


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