Edward Fredkin, 88, Who Saw the Universe as One Big Computer, Dies

Despite never graduating from college, he became an influential professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pioneered artificial intelligence, and said the entire universe might function like one big computer. Edward Fredkin, the maverick scientific theorist who championed the idea, has died. June 13th in Brookline, Massachusetts. he was 88 years old.

His death was confirmed at the hospital by his son Richard Fredkin.

Driven by his seemingly limitless scientific imagination and thoughtless indifference to conventional thinking, Professor Fredkin was as mind-blowing as the iconoclastic theories that propelled him to intellectual power in both computer science and physics. I pushed through a distorting, endlessly changing career.

“Ed Fredkin had more ideas in a day than most people think in a month,” Gerald Sussman, an electronics professor and longtime colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a phone interview. said. “Most of them were bad, and he would have agreed with me on that. I had a good idea of

After serving as a fighter pilot in the Air Force in the early 1950s, Professor Fredkin became a famous, albeit unconventional, scientific thinker. He was a close friend and intellectual sparring partner of renowned physicist Richard Feynman and renowned computer scientist Marvin Minsky, pioneer of artificial intelligence.

He was self-taught and dropped out of college after a year, but at 34 he became a full professor of computer science at MIT. Afterwards, he taught at Carnegie University in Pittsburgh, where he taught at Mellon College and Boston College.

Not satisfied with confining his energy in an ivory tower, Professor Fredkin created a programmable film reader in 1962 that allowed computers to analyze data captured by cameras, such as Air Force radar information. Founded a company to develop

That company, Information International, Inc., went public in 1968. With his new fortune, he bought a Caribbean island in the British Virgin Islands and flew there in a Cessna 206 seaplane. The island lacked drinking water, so Professor Fredkin developed reverse osmosis technology to desalinate seawater, turning it into a separate business.

He eventually sold the property, Mosquito Island, to British billionaire Richard Branson for $25 million.

Professor Fredkin’s life was full of contradictions, so it’s no surprise that he himself is credited with causing them. Fredkin’s ParadoxSuppose, as is known, that: When choosing between two options, the more similar they are, the more time you spend agonizing over the decision, even if the difference between the two is small. Conversely, if the differences are more substantive or meaningful, less time may be spent making decisions.

As an early researcher in artificial intelligence, Professor Fredkin foresaw the current debate on superintelligent machines half a century ago.

“We need a combination of engineering and science, and we already have that engineering,” Fredkin said in a 1977 New York Times interview. “You don’t have to understand everything about humans to create machines that think better than humans. We don’t understand feathers yet, but they can fly.”

As a starting point, he helped pave the way for machines to checkmate the world’s Bobby Fischer. Professor Fredkin, the developer of an early chess processing system, created the Fredkin Prize in 1980, which gives him $100,000 to anyone who can develop the first computer program to win a world chess championship.

In 1997, a team of IBM programmers did just that, 6 figure prize When their computer “Deep Blue” beats world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

“There was no doubt in my mind that a computer would eventually beat the reigning world chess champion,” Fredkin said. said at the time. “There will always be problems.”

Edward Fredkin was born on October 2, 1934 in Los Angeles, the youngest of four Russian immigrants. His father, Manuel Fredkin, ran a chain of radio stores that went bankrupt during the Great Depression. His mother, Rose (Spiegel) Fredkin, was a pianist.

A brainy and socially clumsy young man, Edward avoided sports and school dancing, preferring to indulge in hobbies such as building rockets, designing fireworks, and dismantling and rebuilding old alarm clocks. “I always got along with machines,” he said. 1988 Atlantic Monthly interview.

After high school, he attended Caltech in Pasadena, where he studied under Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling. However, he was drawn to his desire to fly, and he dropped out of school during his sophomore year to join the Air Force.

During the Korean War, he was trained to fly fighter planes. However, his prodigious skills in mathematics and technology led him to work in military computer systems rather than in combat. The Air Force eventually sent him to the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a source of innovation funded by the Department of Defense, to further his computer science education.

This was the beginning of a long tenure at MIT, where in the 1960s he helped develop an early version of a multiple access computer as part of a program funded by the Department of Defense. Project MAC. The program also explored machine-assisted cognition, an early work in artificial intelligence.

“He was one of the world’s first computer programmers,” Sussman said.

In 1971 Professor Fredkin was chosen to oversee the project. He soon became a full-time faculty member.

As his career developed, Professor Fredkin continued to challenge mainstream scientific thinking. He has made great strides in the field of reversible computing, an esoteric research field that combines computer science and thermodynamics.

With two innovations, the billiard ball computer model he developed with Tommaso Toffoli and Fredkin Gate, he demonstrated that computation is not inherently irreversible. These advances suggest that it is theoretically possible to build a computer that does not require computation to consume energy by overwriting intermediate results of the computation, does not consume energy, and does not generate heat. I’m here.

But none of his insights has generated more discussion than his famous theory on digital physics, a niche field in which he has become a leading theorist.

His theory that the universe is one giant computer is explained by author and science writer Robert Wright. 1988 Atlantic Monthlyis based on the idea that information is more primordial than matter or energy. According to Wright, Fredkin believed that “atoms, electrons, and quarks ultimately consist of bits, the binary units of information that are like the currency in personal computers and calculators.”

As Professor Fredkin said in that article, DNA, the basic building block of heredity, is “a good example of digitally encoded information.”

“Information that implies what happens to living things and plants is encoded,” he says. “It’s expressed in DNA, right? OK, there’s a process that takes that information and transforms it into a living being.”

Even ordinary creatures like rats are “large and complex information processes,” he concluded.

Professor Fredkin’s first marriage to Dorothy Fredkin ended in divorce in 1980. The professor has his wife Joycelyn in addition to his son Richard. His first marriage produced a son, Michael, and two daughters, Sally and Susan. brother Norman. Sister Joan Entz. 6 grandchildren. and one great-grandchild.

Professor Fredkin’s cosmological theory, however intriguing, remained rudimentary by the end of his life. “Most physicists don’t believe that to be true,” says Sussman. “I don’t know if Fredkin believed that to be true either. But there’s certainly a lot to be learned from thinking that way.”

By contrast, his early views on artificial intelligence seem more prescient by the day.

“In the distant future, we will never know what computers do and why,” he told The Times in 1977. Of all the people who have ever lived on this earth. “

Yet, unlike many current fatalists, he felt no existential fear. “Obviously intelligent machines would be just as interested in stealing and controlling our toys as they would be in controlling chimpanzees or robbing squirrels of nuts. They will lose interest,” he says.

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