And that's the reason this stuff is a miracle

Nick Hounshell, a Stranger on the Internet

Received on 30 September 2019

After hours of scratching my head over Support Vector Machines, I came across his wonderful, wonderful 2010 lecture on the topic.

I've never seen anything quite like it-- from his effortless wielding of many-colored chalks (a la Wolverine, haha), to the way he carefully and cogently assembles complex ideas, gift-wrapped in neat, circled numerals-- this was clearly a man with a passion for knowledge.

Any frankly, in all of my semesters of university math, in all of my rabbit holing in the world of Data Science, I've always envied those with the knowhow to appreciate the "beauty of math." This lecture helped me tap into that for the first time in a life spent trying.

Feeling very lucky to have came across his lecture tonight.

Speak, If You Can

Jamie C. Macbeth, a visiting scholar at Genesis group

Received on 23 September 2019

Patrick was my host at MIT CSAIL during my a pre-tenure sabbatical in the fall of 2017, and during the 2019-2020 academic year I will visit MIT again as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars Program. Patrick was to be my official host during this visit as well, so I was obviously unfortunate to have lost him at this time.

 

My research is focused on in-depth natural language understanding, so obviously Patrick and I had a great degree of overlap in interests. One important thing that I learned from Patrick was to focus less on concerns about engineering "scalability" into "symbolic AI" systems, and take a stronger position in which AI research is a scientific enterprise for investigating human intelligence.

 

Patrick used the Shakespeare play Macbeth as an example in many contexts and as an input for his Genesis story understanding system (as I am sure many reading this should know). Coincidentally, my last name is Macbeth and this was a pretty boundless source of amusement for Patrick, and, consequently, for all of us in the Genesis Group! Patrick particularly liked Macbeth's interactions with the three Witches in the play, where, given their condition, Macbeth questioned whether they were even capable of thought and speech. When I would knock and enter Patrick's office, he would frequently respond by quoting from Act 1, Scene 3, where Macbeth says to the three witches, "Speak, if you can: what are you?"

Never Apologize

Yida Xin, his Ph.D. Co-advisee

Received on 26 August 2019

Back in 2016, toward to the end of my undergraduate junior year, I was contemplating giving up on going to medical school, and instead, attending some Neural Computing related graduate school for a Ph.D. or something. I was panicking, browsing all sorts of material on Math and CS, and begging around for “general advice” on what I should pursue as my life goal. I wondered into Patrick’s 6.034 video lectures on Probabilistic Inference. I thought, What a teacher. I decided to send him an email, and I did, on a Saturday afternoon. 14 minutes later, he wrote back, “Yida, Never apologize…” That email would mark the beginning of my eventual dropping out of all of Economics, Pre-med, and Neuroscience; going full-on for a B.S. in Mathematics in my senior year; and pursuing a Ph.D. in cognitive Artificial Intelligence.

 

Since that Saturday afternoon, to this day, I aspire to speak and write with full dignity and full concision.

Opportunity and Disaster

Dylan Holmes, his Ph.D. Student

Received on 21 August 2019

Patrick's intro AI course began decades ago, evolving year-by-year as we learned more about how minds work---and about how to teach more effectively. Patrick once said that some of the best, most innovative 6.034 teaching strategies came from disasters.

 

One year, due to a pile of factors, one of the quizzes was a real dud. The questions were impossible to understand or answer. Patrick, repentant, showed up at the next lecture with a paper bag over his head and a new idea: they would add a makeup for that quiz to the final exam, and give each student the higher of the before/after grades so that no one would be worse off.

 

But wait---that best-of-both-grades approach allows the staff to measure understanding without caring whether students understand the material right away or by the end of the semester. That's a pretty great feature. So why not make it the default policy for all quizzes? They did, and it still is.

 

Patrick's ability to derive inspiration and innovation from disaster has inspired me to this day. It is one of the many reasons why he earned so much respect as an educator and thinker, and why 6.034 regularly packs a lecture hall with upwards of 400 students each semester.

MIT Embodied

Jonathan Goler, student of 6.034 and 6.XXX

Received on 17 August 2019

As an undergrad I enjoyed 6034, but the real magic was 6.XXX;  I wasn't an early riser in general, but always arrived early for the 8AM invigorating conversations with Winston, and learning not only about AI (real AI, not the brute force bulldozer of the current "AI Craze"), but communication, life, and philosophy.  It was learning in the most intimate setting, and led to more curiosity and discovery.

Research advisor and teacher

Sayeri Lala, his student and previous Genesis group member

Received on 10 August 2019

I am very fortunate to have known Professor Winston. He was a wonderful teacher, research advisor, and mentor. 

He was caring, incredibly supportive, and very encouraging of individual creativity. During the time I did research with him, he was always eager for discussion and ready to help me implement features in Genesis so we could explore new ideas together. His energy and vision inspired me. 

My time at MIT will always be marked by his presence. I will miss coming into his office for advice, passing by the blackboards in Stata with his lectures drawn out, and seeing posters around IAP on his annual “How to Speak” seminar. I will miss him very much.
 
I am truly humbled and honored to have met and worked with you Professor Winston. May you rest in peace.

How to speak, and how to live

Daniel Jackson, his colleague

Received on 7 August 2019

I attended Patrick's famous IAP lecture "How to speak" for the first time when I was a graduate student in 1988 (and for the last time a year or so ago). I was struck most, perhaps, by the delightful self-referential nature of his advice. Give your talk mid-morning -- late enough that people aren't still waking enough, and not too close to lunch when they're hungry. Make a promise at the start and deliver by the end. And of course his talk delivered on every one of these little pieces of advice. 

This was more than a computer scientist's little joke. It was how Patrick lived his life: taking the advice he gave to others. And what good advice it was. I have to break one rule of his, however. Never end with thank-yous, he'd say. But in this case it seems appropriate to say thank you to Patrick himself, for his wonderful teaching, his companionship, and his wise and generous presence over so many years.

Leadership

Jeff Breidenbach, his 6.034 teaching assistant in 1996

Received on 6 August 2019

Professor Winston taught me that the leader of an organization sets the tone. While that may seem abundantly obvious today's in America, it was a revelation to me at the time, and something I now explain to my own young children. Maybe tree search can be next.

I did not know Prof. Winston

Andrew Haeffner, EECS '21

Received on 5 August 2019

However, I know he is a great man and was a wonderful professor.

I express my condolences and love.

VSNC

Henry Lieberman, a research scientist with Patrick in the Genesis group

Received on 29 July 2019

I've known Patrick since the 1970s when I was a student at the original MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. I took his course back in the 1970s, and it was influential in my going into AI. But last year, I decided to sit in on his course again, this time from the perspective of a teacher, hoping to learn something about his excellent teaching style. Here's something I learned.

When Patrick really wants to make an important point, he drives it home, repeatedly, to students, by explaining how it appears and should be used, over and over again in different contexts. One of Patrick's mantras was the not-very-pronounceable acronym, VSNC. It is a metaphor for how to structure a research project, a paper, a proposal or a job talk.  It strikes me that VSNC was also a great metaphor for Patrick's life.

 

V is for Vision, the big idea of what you're trying to accomplish. Patrick was a man of Vision, and his was nothing less than to understand human intelligence, through understanding stories and perception. He kept his eye on the ball, and simply shut out the constant noise and bullshit that threatened to distract him.

 

S is the Steps you take to realize the vision, and N is News. The body of the paper or talk should explain the details of what you are doing to realize the vision. It's always great to have some sound-bite statement hot off the presses you can present as News. Throughout his life, we heard his S's and N's, and that's what you'll find in the bios written about him. 

 

Finally, there's C, which many expected to be Conclusion, traditionally used to end a paper or talk. But he detested conclusions. C was Contributions. Make sure you emphasize what you have contributed to advance science and the world. And, Patrick's life contributed many things to many people, from writing the first thesis on machine learning that was any good, to his leadership of the AI Lab, to the accomplishments of the Genesis project, to teaching and mentoring generations of students. Patrick's life was all about Contributions.

phw

Adrian de Wynter, his student

Received on 29 July 2019

I remember his plot showing us class attendance being linearly correlated with final grade. He had found the only way to convince me, as a lazy MIT student, to actually show up to lecture, and it was worth it.


To be honest, it took me a while to learn his name, because he always signed his emails with "phw", and my TA always referred to him that way.


In any event, Professor Winston was the reason why I decided to study Artificial Intelligence, and why I approach all my research from a more intuitive point of view.


Thank you, Professor phw.

Condolences

Srikanth N (from Bangalore, India), an admirer of his AI course on OCW

Received on 28 July 2019 

I came across Prof's YouTube lectures as part of MIT-OCW series on Artificial Intelligence, only recently ~ a month ago. I am an Engineer and have been a struggling one for the last twenty years, and have recently started exploring the AI domain. I know how tough it is to teach Technical concepts to confused souls like me. In this regard, the lectures by Prof Winston just blew my mind. They were interesting, funny, witty, and insightful, all at the same time. And to think he could convey all this virtually, in short 1-hr capsules! I am very envious of the folks in his classroom who experienced the lectures live. It must have been an unforgettable experience to cherish forever.

 

While going through the AI course series, i stumbled on a comment saying Prof. Winston passed away last week. It was shocking to say the least. I would like to place on record my deepest gratitude for the knowledge he has shared so freely and beautifully. He represents the best of what American (free-thinking) universities have to offer the world. Many thanks Prof, and hope you are dancing to those beloved Japanese beats you talked about at the beginning of one of your lectures, up there!

 

My deepest condolences to Prof Winston's family and friends.

In the moment

Ted Selker, his colleague

Received on 27 July 2019

Yes, Patrick has a rudder and there are those ways of listening to his ideas and the incredible gifts he has built to help teach write and learn. Some people get into their groove telling the same stories. 


My experience is with Patrick as a man who listens and thinks with others. I see him enjoying conversation, patient and generous even when there is never time. 

And his infectious smile invites it all.

Visiting

Skye Thompson

Received on 26 July 2019

I emailed Professor Winston before visiting MIT as a junior in high school, asking about what research in AI at MIT was like. I’d heard about him from watching 6.034 lectures on MITx, and was starstruck at the idea of going to a school where people like him taught. But I was incredibly nervous about the visit in general, worried I wasn't a good enough candidate to even consider applying. 

He replied the next day, and invited me to sit in on one of the Human Intelligence Enterprise classes while I was here. He asked me questions in class and let me participate (and fed me donuts). After, he met with me in his office and asked about my interests and goals, and we talked about whether he thought MIT would be a good fit. He showed me what his research group was working on and suggested I apply for a UROP in the group if I came to MIT and was interested. (Though I never did that, one of the professors I work for now was actually a student he advised.) I felt like I was floating the rest of the weekend.

I hold onto that memory when I need a reminder of why I love MIT and the people in it. I emailed a handful of different professors at different colleges I visited - he was the only one who reached back out to that extent, and made it such an incredibly positive experience. He was the first person who made me feel like I could belong here.

Action at a distance in AI

Varol Akman, a friend

Received on 26 July 2019

"In physics, action at a distance is the concept that an object can be moved, changed, or otherwise affected without being physically touched (as in mechanical contact) by another object. That is, it is the nonlocal interaction of objects that are separated in space." (Action at a distance - Wikipedia)

 

In AI, action at a distance is the concept that a professor or a student can be moved, changed, or otherwise affected without being physically touched (as in mechanical contact) by PHW.

 

In my AI course CS461 at Bilkent, Ankara, I and my students have used his books, lectures, notes, exams, home page (the best there is!) and the great 6.034 wiki. I also had the honor of corresponding with him via email in more than one occasion. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory Professor Winston!

On my bookshelf

Jeff Freilich, staff member at CSAIL

Received on 26 July 2019

I showed Patrick my copy of one of the textbooks he wrote on Artificial Intelligence that I saved from a course I took back in the late '80s. He opened the book up, leafed through, and discovered with some mild disappointment that my copy was not sufficiently marked up with handwritten notes in the margins, lines that I highlighted or any dog-eared pages.

Clearly, I still have some homework to do...

I'll miss him.

Getting to know you

Caitlyn Frazier, his research intern in 2017

Received on 26 July 2019

When I first started interning with Patrick, I asked him what he preferred to be called. He replied: 

You can call me whatever you find comfortable. Here are some examples: 

If you were an MIT student the greeting could be

Hey!

If you were my mom

Patrick

If you were my daughter

Dada

If you were confused, it could be

Winston

So there are lots of possibilities.

Patrick

I miss his subtle and subversive sense of humor. Patrick was one of the first people to listen to my crazy ideas and say, "Yeah, let's give that a try." I'll forever be grateful for his guidance, support, and the notable conversations with him.

Patrick H. Winston remembrance

Kathleen Freeman

Received on 25 July 2019

Yes, we are fortunate to have had Patrick in our lives, even, in my case, for a little bit, from afar. We connected some years ago over the old How to Speak video which can be found online, and of which I am a big fan. I was interested in getting ahold of a more recent version, and inquired via email whether it would be possible to do this. Professor Winston wrote back promptly, responding that yes, he would send a more recent video, if I would promise to give him feedback about some details of the talk. The collegiality and helpfulness of his response to an email out of the blue made a lasting impression on me. More recently, we had been in touch about his book-in-progress, Communication. Even in email, his warm and generous personality was evident. Thank you, Patrick.

Good memories old and new

Larry Stabile '74, his student

Received on 25 July 2019

I took Professor Winston's AI course back when it was new, and he was a new professor, and AI was having some success, and the field was just starting to take off. I later did some AI work and consulted a couple of times with him on the subject.

More recently, I was attending a database conference, held annually at Stata, and saw Professor Winston at the first floor blackboards, practicing for his Speak Winston lecture, which was about to begin. I said hello and we chatted for a minute, then he said, why don't you come to the talk? Well, I said, I have this database conference I'm attending. "Oh," he replied without hesitation, "this is much better than that!" So I went, and he was right.

We will not accept your paper

Stephie Wu, his student

Received on 24 July 2019

When I took 6.xxx with Professor Winston in the Spring of 2013, the students all had to sign a promise at the beginning of the semester to attend every class. Any absences had to be cleared beforehand with him.

 

Halfway through the semester, I spent a night ill with food poisoning from some questionable dinner off the free food list. I emailed Professor Winston apologizing for being a lousy promise-breaker and asking if I could turn in my assignment at the next class on Monday. His reply made my heart skip a beat.

 

"Stephie,

 

I regret we will not accept your paper on Monday...

 

...because it is a holiday.

 

We will accept it by email or on Wednesday.

 

Get well,

Patrick"

A personal touch

Manushaqe Muco, his student and former Genesis Group member

Received on 24 July 2019

It’s endearing to see the stories everyone is sharing about Professor Winston, as to him the stories we tell were at the core of what makes us human. Here’s mine. 

One of the sweetest things Professor Winston used to do is give students honorifics based on their personality or particular character quirks. It had a nice personal touch, and made me feel I mattered to him as a person. He wasn’t there to teach a class and move on. Or distribute research projects. Instead, Professor Winston cared deeply about his students, and cared deeply about what his students wanted. 

Students attracted to the Genesis Group were fascinated by the puzzle that is the human mind. And Professor Winston was there to guide us, and make sure we had fun along the way. Just as his life’s work focused on the full picture of understanding the mind, so did the minds of his students matter to him as wholes. 

 

May his memory live on in the minds and future work of those that embark on the same brave journey of understanding ourselves.

A quote

Chen Sun, his student and wanderer

Received on 24 July 2019

In 6.xxx Professor Winston once told us that

 

when you are young, the people who inspire you most are often ones who show great passion. But as you get older, the people who inspire you most are often ones who make you see things in a different light.

 

This is why, Professor, you inspire me through the ages.

A handshake and black coffee

Seth Berg, his student

Received on 23 July 2019

I took two of Professor Winston's classes as an undergrad. I really enjoyed those classes, but I wasn't a standout student or someone particularly memorable. When I walked on stage at my graduation, I was surprised to see Professor Winston stand up, walk over to me and shake my hand. That really meant a lot to me. He's also the reason why, to this day, I drink my coffee black.

In students we trust

Sebastian Bartlett, his student and Genesis Group member

Received on 23 July 2019

"You may not have known it, but the questionnaire you filled out on the first day of class was actually a test. You all failed,"

Winston stated with a beaming smile. From anyone else, these words might have seemed off-putting for the first real lecture of a small, highly sought-after class. But from Winston, they were uplifting, promising, encouraging. They articulated a key epithet of the human condition: We all fail. But that's a blessing in disguise. If we did not fail, we would not know the meaning of success. If we did not fail, there would be no direction in which to improve, no area left in which to grow and evolve. We would be setting ourselves up, as it were, in an unsolvable constraint satisfaction problem. For Professor Winston, these words were not a curse or a punishment, they were the announcement that the semester-long journey was about to begin.

"In 6.034, we trust our students."

 

Professor Winston's entire philosophy centered on mutual respect of students, driven by an unbounded curiosity and passion for discovering the nature of our cognition and humanness. 6.034 was more than just a class, it was a community. A mindset, a way of life. Models, representations, algorithms. Goals, trees, searches. Professor Winston's unique perspective and ability to articulate the structures and ideas that formed the backbone of AI went beyond standard scholarship. During his presentation of the topics, both tangible and cognitive worlds would seemingly deconstruct themselves into a semantically connected landscape of symbols and relations. A kind of "peeking behind the curtain", a glimpse of a Platonic realm of Forms. Activities as simple as hanging pictures on an empty wall suddenly became constraint satisfaction problems. Sequences of choices became searches, and carried the intuition gained via graph representation plus analytical benefits gained by considering heuristics. Professor Winston taught AI, but more importantly, he provided insight into the meaning of being a capable, emotive, thinking human being, how to reach for the impossible, and how to change the world.

It's difficult to find words to encapsulate emotions; harder still to find a sequence of them that can tell an adequate story of Professor Winston's profound impact on MIT, on EECS and AI, and in my life personally. His caring and genuine passion has deeply touched my intellectual experience and outlook on life as a whole. Throughout this summer, I was looking forward to meeting with him to discuss any range of topics, from expanding the Genesis system, to finding the right way, to what to do during a shipwreck. It is still a point of cognitive dissonance to me that this, as with many plans, will not come to be. One of his main mottos was "You can do it; only you can do it; you can't do it alone," to which he would append and conclude as a doubly-starred idea: "If you take care of your people, you won't be alone." I can only hope to pay his kindness back in time.

Professor Winston encouraged all of us to go out into the world and create stories worth telling. But in that act of anticipation, the essence of looking to the future, we lose the bittersweetness of how it will have been once the story is told. "Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit."

"When you conclude your talk, you must remind people of your promise, and exhibit how the promise has been fulfilled."

 

Professor Winston fulfilled his promises to us in uncountable ways; it is now our turn to hold the torch and fulfill ours. In taking his lessons to heart we can progress towards the right way- a better and wiser future as he would have hoped for.

Professor Winston: "Good travels, good hunting."

Subtle humor

Claire N. '19, his freshman advisee '15-16

Received on 23 July 2019

I took Professor Winston's AI course back when it was new, and he was a new professor, and AI was having some success, and the field was just starting to take off. I later did some AI work and consulted a couple of times with him on the subject.

More recently, I was attending a database conference, held annually at Stata, and saw Professor Winston at the first floor blackboards, practicing for his Winston Speak lecture, which was about to begin. I said hello and we chatted for a minute, then he said, why don't you come to the talk? Well, I said, I have this database conference I'm attending. "Oh," he replied without hesitation, "this is much better than that!" So I went, and he was right.

Go to sleep and check in the morning

Zhutian Yang, his Ph.D. student admitted in 2019

Received on 22 July 2019

In November 2018,  I was trying to make a robot demo in which Professor Winston's Genesis Problem Solver played an important role. To implement one feature, I needed to modify his system a little. So I emailed him from Singapore to ask how. At a little past 11 pm that day (his 11 am in Boston), I received his Skype call. After understanding the situation, he issued two instructions:

1. Go home now and go to sleep.

2. Check in the morning and see if the feature works.

 

It worked in the morning. 

 

My heart melts every time I recall this memory. He was truly taking care of me in the days and in the evenings, always like that until his last week.

Contribute Remembrances

What has Patrick H. Winston meant to you?

 

What’s your funniest or most touching memory about him?

 

What do you recall with gratitude?  

We are fortunate to have had Patrick in our lives. By sharing our memories of him, we gain warmth, courage, and wisdom. 

 

Stories live forever, helping keep this great man alive in our hearts.

 

Should you have any questions or suggestions, please

contact us at contribute@memoriesofpatrickwinston.com

© 2019 by Patrick's students, friends, and family

Alex Balaiban contributed 12 months of submission functionality on this website