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Memorial service slated tomorrow for Pushpinder Singh

Pushpinder Singh
Pushpinder Singh

A memorial service will be held at MIT Thursday, March 9, for Pushpinder Singh, a postdoctoral associate in the MIT Media Lab who died Feb. 28 in Cambridge. He was 33.

The service will be held in the MIT Chapel at 3 p.m.

Singh's research centered on giving computers human-like common sense -- the ability to think about the everyday world as people do --but his interests ranged from developing a theory of beauty to developing an architecture for reflective thinking, according to Media Lab colleagues.

"Push's work has opened the possibility for a true partnership between people and machines," said Walter Bender, senior research scientist and former executive director of the Media Lab.

"None of us will ever adapt to this loss ��� Push served as a model of intellectual power, kindness and honesty," wrote Marvin Minsky, professor of media arts and sciences emeritus at MIT. Minsky was Singh's advisor and mentor for many years. "He was like a comet lighting up the intellectual sky with his brilliant, deep ideas and his beautiful personality. His blazing trail remains in his many writings, publications, notes and in the memory networks of his friends. We were all just beginning to know the range and the depth of his ideas."

"Push had great warmth," Bender said. "He was building upon that warmth, developing a model of mind that was attuned to human goals."

Media Lab research scientist Henry Lieberman said, "I saw in Push a great example of the pioneer spirit of the earlier days of AI (artificial intelligence). This means not being afraid to tackle the big questions -- common sense, knowledge, problem solving, story understanding, vision."

Born in Dehradun, India, Singh grew up in Canada, and earned his S.B. and M.Eng. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 1998. He was named one of the "IEEE Intelligent Systems 10 to Watch," an award that honors young researchers in artificial intelligence. He planned to take a faculty position at the Media Lab this fall.

"Push was trying to implement a cognitive architecture; a system that can react, deliberate and reflect. This is unique and ambitious work for the field of artificial intelligence," said Dustin Smith, a Media Lab graduate student working on common sense computing. Benjamin Mako Hill, another graduate student who worked closely with Singh, added, "In the last several decades, artificial intelligence has concentrated on specialized areas, but Push was making real, visible steps toward AI's original, larger goal of artificial minds and intelligent systems -- truly smart computers."

Singh is survived by his parents, Mahender and Kulwant Singh of Montreal, Quebec; two sisters, Vindi Singh of San Francisco and Raminder Singh of Schaumburg, Ill.; and his partner, Barbara Barry of Cambridge.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2006 (download PDF).

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