The Arty Semite

Minsky and Machover at the World Science Festival

By Benjamin Ivry

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The much-hyped World Science Festival kicks off June 2 at Lincoln Center, and it’s still not too late to snap up a “Titanium Package,” which includes “tickets for 20 guests to VIP Reception, Performance (with exceptional seating), and Gala Reception” for the modest sum of only $100,000. Yes, $100,000, to see some Broadway-style performers, like the married couple Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker, who should never have been made the object of such frenzied fundraising. Stephen Hawking and Alan Alda will also be present, among others, but really!

For those with shallower pockets, a June 3 event at the Hayden Planetarium Theater, costing only $30 and $15 for students, will likely be the highlight of the five-day festival: a chat between composer Tod Machover and the MIT pioneer of Artificial Intelligence, Marvin Minsky.

To some, Machover’s music may be an acquired taste. As the son of a Juilliard-trained pianist and a pioneering computer scientist, Machover has the proper genes to be a memorable composer of computer music, if genetics decided such matters. Often, Machover’s music seems to reflect a flood of ideas, some of which may be better suited to extra-musical goals. Indeed, two former Machover students realized as much, developing one of his compositional techniques into the “Guitar Hero” series of video games.

By contrast, Minsky attains the realm of authentic metaphysical speculation on such essential questions as how the mind works, especially in his bestselling titles like 2007’s “The Emotion Machine” from Simon & Schuster and 1988’s now-classic “Society Of Mind.” For those who do not often get to Massachusetts, the opportunity to hear the always-lucid Minsky, now 82, is not to be missed, so we must be grateful to the World Science Festival, despite its frenetic publicity and some of its ticket prices.

Watch Marvin Minsky discourse on consciousness:


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