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SMSI Awards 2014

Èmile Chamot Award Recipient - Marvin Minsky

Minsky is the inventor of the confocal scanning microscope, which he patented in 1957, and a founding father of the artificial intelligence (AI) field. He is also the author of key theoretical and practical contributions in mathematics, cognitive science, robotics and philosophy. A co-founder of the prestigious Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was also instrumental in establishing the MIT Media Lab.

Minsky is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, as well as Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences. A philosopher and scientist, he is universally regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities in the field of AI, having made fundamental contributions in the sectors of robotics and computer-aided learning technologies. In recent years he has worked chiefly on imparting to machines the human capacity for common-sense reasoning. His book Society of Mind (1988) is considered a basic text for exploring intellectual structure and function, and for understanding the diversity of the mechanisms interacting in intelligence and thought.

In his Memoir on Inventing the Confocal Scanning Microscope, Minsky recounts: “The price of single-point illumination is being able to measure only one point at a time. This is why a confocal microscope must scan the specimen, point by point and that can take a long time because we must add all the time intervals it takes to collect enough light to measure each image point. That amount of time could be reduced by using a brighter light – but there were no lasers in those days. I began by using a carbon arc, the brightest source available.”

In January 2014, Minsky won the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the information and communication technologies category. The award acknowledges his contributions during his long career of teaching and conducting research at MIT.

Minsky received a B.A. and Ph.D. in mathematics at Harvard University (1950) and Princeton University (1954), respectively. In 1951, he built the SNARC, the first neural network simulator. His other inventions include mechanical arms, hands and other robotic devices, the “Muse” synthesizer for musical variations (with Edward Fredkin), and one of the first Logo “turtles” educational programming language (with Seymour Papert).

August Kohler Award Recipient - Steve Gill

By profession Steve is a Research Analyst for a Software Communications Company, by birth a Yorkshireman, by training a Laboratory Technician (Organic Chemistry). After working at Leeds University he found employ in the Lithographic coatings industry but moved on having spent two years turning yellow on exposure to sunlight. After another year working on a Pilot Plant setup for a glue-making company he weaned himself off the organic solvents and entered the Computer Industry where he has remained ever since.

His contributions to microscopy include research on the lives of eminent microscopists of the past, a subject on which he has published widely in UK Society Journals and on the WWW. His expertise in this field of research has been utilized by a host of authors as an adjunct to their own work and he is, perhaps, best known for appearing in acknowledgments.

Over a number of years he has been instrumental in making available numerous historical texts that had not before been published (the Archive series of Data CDs and DVDs, produced in conjunction with Dr. Brian Bracegirdle). He has been a committee member of the Postal Microscopical Society and also a past-editor of their Journal – The Balsam Post.

The last fifteen years have seen the production of many diatom-related publications, particularly the old, scarcer publications, and also the production of the Browser-based Klaus Kemp’s Diatom Database, now in use in many Universities around the globe. The Amateur Diatomist publication was founded in 2002 and continues as an online resource. The dissemination of accessible information relating to diatom studies continues to be his main thrust in the field of microscopy though the historical work continues. In the recent past the on-line publication of diatom-related works by Robert McLaughlin and Horace Barber (previously unpublished manuscripts) have been well received by both amateur and professional alike (these are available for free download from the Amateur Diatomist website and also via ModernMicroscopy).

Steve’s leisure time is taken up researching the history of William Watson, fancy goods dealer, gunmaker and scientific instrument maker, better known to most as W. Watson and Sons Ltd, of 313 High Holborn and also the study of British Shieldbugs.

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