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Professor Patrick Winston, former director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, dies at 76

(from left to right: Governor Michael Dukakis, President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Professor Patrick Winston

at the AI World Society’s first meeting December 12, 2017.)

Patrick Winston, a beloved professor and computer scientist at MIT, died on July 19 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 76.

A professor at MIT for almost 50 years, Winston was the director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from 1972 to 1997 before it merged with the Laboratory for Computer Science to become MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
A devoted teacher and cherished colleague, Winston led CSAIL’s Genesis Group, which focused on developing AI systems that have human-like intelligence, including the ability to tell, perceive, and comprehend stories. He believed that such work could help illuminate aspects of human intelligence that scientists don’t yet understand.

His Genesis project aimed to faithfully model computers after human intelligence in order to fully grasp the inner workings of our own motivations, rationality, and perception. Using MIT research scientist Boris Katz’s START natural language processing system and a vision system developed by former MIT PhD student Sajit Rao, Genesis can digest short, simple chunks of text, then spit out reports about how it interpreted connections between events.

Winston’s dedication to teaching earned him many accolades over the years, including the Baker Award, the Eta Kappa Nu Teaching Award, and the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award. He was also renowned for his accessible and informative lectures, and gave a hugely popular talk every year during the Independent Activities Period called “How to Speak.”

A past president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), Winston also wrote and edited numerous books, including a seminal textbook on AI that’s still used in classrooms around the world. Outside of the lab he also co-founded Ascent Technology, which produces scheduling and workforce management applications for major airports.

As a pioneer researcher in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Professor Patrick Winston was also key figure to the AI World Society (AIWS), which has been established by Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation (MDI). He was an intellectual and active contributor to AIWS and MDI from the very first days, including AI World Society first meeting on December 12, 2017 at Harvard University Faculty Club.

Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation (MDI) and AI World Society (AIWS) express sincere condolences to professor Patrick Winston and his family. Professor Patrick Winston is always memorized as an inspirational AI expert in AI World Society for promoting ethical norms and practices in the development and use of AI.