September 25, 2021
This week in The History of AI at AIWS.net – Marvin Minsky and Dean Edmonds built SNARC, the first artificial neural network, in 1951. SNARC stands for the Stochastic Neural Analog Reinforcement Calculator. It is a neural net machine, which itself is a randomly connected network of 40 Hebbs synapses. The idea to develop the machine was from a letter by Minsky to George Armitage Miller, who then got funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Dean Edmonds volunteered to help, as he was good with electronics.
Marvin Minsky was a graduate student in mathematics at Princeton at the time of this project. He would go on to be an important pioneer in the field of AI. He penned the research proposal for the Dartmouth Conference, which coined the term “Artificial Intelligence”, and he was a participant in it when it was hosted the next summer. Minsky would also co-founded the MIT AI labs, which went through different names, and the MIT Media Laboratory. In terms of popular culture, he was an adviser to Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. He won the Turing Award in 1969.
Dean Edmonds was a graduate student in physics at Princeton at the time of the project. Although there is not many information about him, he wrote a short piece about his time around academia, which also details his contacts with Minsky and SNARC. George Armitage Miller, who helped get funding for the project from the Air Force, was an American psychologist. He was a pioneer in the field of cognitive psychology and cognitive science.
This project is important to the History of AI as SNARC machine was one of the first experiments in the Artifical Intelligence. Furthermore, Marvin Minsky would become one of the founders of AI. HAI considers this an eventful project in the early development of AI.