Marvin Minsky, born in 1927, has been one of the biggest names in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) for the last half of the 20th century and into the early years of the 21st century. He is considered one of the field's foremost pioneers, and has worked in it since before it was even formally conceived in 1956. He continues to be intellectually active to this day, publishing a book titled The Emotion Machine in November 2006, and appearing at conferences from time to time.
In 1951 Marvin Minsky invented SNARC, the first artificial neural network (ANN), which gave birth to a whole field of AI. Along with Seymour Papert, he created programs using Logo, one of the earliest programming languages. With Papert he wrote the book Perceptrons, foundational in the field of artificial neural nets. The neural net idea was unique in that it did not require programmers to specify every line of code, but could be "grown" and trained in an organic way.
In 1961 Marvin Minsky invented the cofocal scanning microscope, the predecessor of the confocal laser scanning microscope, which produces high-resolution, in-focus images of thick specimens in biology. It wasn't until the late 80s that the technology required to fully exploit the principles Minsky first elucidated were developed, but after it became possible, cofocal microscopes were the new standard.
In 1963 Marvin Minsky invented the first head-mounted graphics display, widely considered decades ahead of its time. Like the cofocal microscope, it would be decades before the parts could be improved enough to be lightweight and effective. To this day, there does not exist a widely successful head-mounted graphics display, although when one is finally developed, we can be sure that Minsky will be mentioned as the initial conceiver of the idea.
Marvin Minsky is most famously associated with the MIT Media Lab and the MIT AI Lab, which he co-founded. In his provocative paper, "Will Robots Inherent the Earth?", he speculates on a future where humans merge with robots to create a posthuman race. He is also a fervent supporter of cryonics, the practice of freezing the brain for potential future revival.