Who Influences Influencers? Amir Husain’s 10 AI Inspirations

By Angela Hinson and Mary Brynn Milburn

Previously, we covered the 11 essential thought leaders in the fast-changing landscape of AI. This week, SparkCognition’s Founder and CEO, Amir Husain, wanted to share his personal list of the 10 scientists, coders, and innovators that influenced his approach to the field.

(For more information on Husain’s perspective, pick up a copy of The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence)

  1. Marvin Minsky
    Known as the father of artificial intelligence, Minsky aided in advances in AI for a majority of his life. Husain was particularly inspired by Minsky’s journey through MIT, where he became a respected professor of science, electrical engineering, and mathematics. Minsky also co-founded of the MIT AI Labs (now known as CSAIL), which work to improve artificial intelligence and how it relates to humans.
    Did you know? Minsky held the unique belief that humans and machines are not different, and that machines will someday possess greater intelligence than humans.
  2. John McCarthy
    The other father of AI, McCarthy created the computer language now standard for AI (he also coined the term “artificial intelligence” itself). McCarthy was a highly regarded professor at Stanford University and worked with Minsky to co-found what is now CSAIL.
    Did you know? McCarthy created the Lisp programming language in 1958 that is still in use today, and was the basis behind voice recognition technology as seen with Siri on the iPhone. There’s also a video series of Minsky and McCarthy’s journey through the ever-changing landscape of AI.
  3. Ed Fredkin
    A leader in AI and computer science, Ed Fredkin pioneered reversible computing concepts that contribute greatly to his most noteworthy theories. He is most recognizably known for his unconventional prospect “Is the Universe a Computer?” in which he analyzes the universe as we know it as if it were a digital program. As Husain notes in his book The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age Of Artificial Intelligence, Fredkin’s words profoundly affected him and showed him that concepts to be learned from computer science can be garnered from nature itself.
    Did you know? Fredkin is a physicist by trade but his advanced interest in computation led him to develop his now-famous notion of digital philosophy.
  4. Claude Shannon
    Shannon received his master’s and doctorate from MIT after studying computer science, mathematics, and genetics. He went on to propose the idea of information theory, which Husain describes as “the idea that humans can build reliability from a fundamentally unreliable substrate.” This theory now has applications in engineering, psychology, and linguistics.
    Did you know? Shannon grew up deeply admiring the work of inventor Thomas Edison, only to learn later in life that the two were distantly related as cousins.
  5. Alan Kay
    Kay is one of the founders of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center where he helped create the computer language Smalltalk, and invented the Dynabook (pictured right) whose concept mimics that of modern day laptops. In his TED Talk, A Powerful Idea About Ideas, Kay explores how to take complex and enigmatic ideas (like some of his own) and communicate them in a way that is simple and easy to understand.
    Did you know? Kay is considered one of the pioneers of computer science and has garnered many awards to this effect, namely the Turing Award and the Kyoto Prize.
  6. Alan Turing
    The father of computer science, Turing is credited with deriving the notion of a “universal machine” which later manifested the central concept of today’s computers, and a test for measuring their similarity to humans, now known as the Turing Test. Turing is also known for his work in cryptanalysis during the second World War, decoding Nazi Enigma machines and later writing papers furthering his “crypto-genius.”
    Did you know? Aside from his work as a scientific and mathematical genius, Turing was a gifted runner and ran his fastest marathon in under three hours, just 11 minutes behind the Olympic time in 1948.
    Video: The History of AI by SparkCognition
  7. John Von Neumann
    Princeton professor, pioneer of game theory, and deemed “possibly one of the most brilliant people ever” by Husain, von Neumann has put his name on almost every principal branch of mathematics. He is also credited as one of the conceptual inventors of the modern computer.
    Did you know? Von Neumann had a prolific photographic memory and often entertained friends and family by memorizing phone books and reciting the contents.
  8. Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi
    Al-Khwarizmi is credited with the origination of algebra and the algorithm, earning him the title of the the “Grandfather” of computer science by some. He made multiple other contributions to astrology and geography, but the concept of the algorithm was his most noteworthy—and fittingly so, as it’s synonymous with his name.
    Did you know? Al-Khwarizmi lived and died in the seventh and eighth centuries, respectively, but his work continues to be a cornerstone for mathematics and science today.
  9. Dennis Ritchie & Ken Thompson
    Ritchie, original creator of C programing language, and Thompson, principal inventor of UNIX, are both major players in the world of computer science today. Their contributions continue to lay as the foundation for today’s systems and programming.
    Did you know? Ritchie and Thompson were made fellows of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA for their efforts at redefining coding language and computer science.
    Video: Ritchie and Thompson Explain UNIX
  10. Donald Knuth
    Knuth was recognized for a range of accomplishments, but most notable were his contributions to computational algorithms in mathematics and the development of LaTeX computer language. Outside of his work in the field of computer science, Knuth was known for his discourse on faith and science (which most scientists typically shy away from).
    Did you know? Knuth is known for his offbeat sense of humor, and was known to present written checks of $2.56 to anyone who found typographical errors in his writings.


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