Marvin Minsky: Well, as soon as I got to college, I ran into people. There was a wonderful young mathematician named Andrew Gleason, and I met him when I was a young student. We used to have lunch, and once I asked him what he was working on, and he said he was trying to solve a mathematical problem called Hilbert’s Fifth Problem about the relation of topology to geometry. And he described this problem. I couldn’t understand it very well. And I asked him, Well, how do you plan to solve that? And he said, Well, I think there are three main steps I’ll have to do, and he described them and I dimly understood them. I said, How long do you think that’ll take? And he said, Well, that’s about eight years because this problem takes three years and this three and that should take two.

And that’s how long it took, and I became sort of — I followed him around and — you see, some people go to classes to learn what the teacher tells them. But unconsciously — and I don’t know when I started doing this — if I liked how somebody thinks, I would listen to them. I wouldn’t pay so much attention to what they were explaining, but I’d say, I think, how did he get that idea? How did he think to explain this or that? And sometimes I felt like a kind of vampire. I’d meet these people — Gleason, George Miller was a great psychologist, Warren McCullough, in later life Richard Feynman and many wonderful people. And I would just hang around. When I found one of these persons, I’d hang around them for — for months or longer, and whatever they said I — what could I have — what state could I have been that I would answer that way?

So I — you know, I had sort of a library of these people. Maybe novelists do that when they make up characters in their story. But I have a little population of different scientists, and Seymour Papert and John McCarthy were two others that I worked with for years. And I got into the state that if somebody asked me something, I would think, well, what would John say about that, what would Papert say?