Edward Fredkin, who despite never having graduated from college became an influential professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and a maverick scientific theorist who championed the idea that the entire universe might function like one big computer, died on June 13 in Brookline, Mass. He was 88.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his son Richard Fredkin.
Fueled by a seemingly limitless scientific imagination and a blithe indifference to conventional thinking, Professor Fredkin charged through an endlessly mutating career that at times seemed as mind-warping as the iconoclastic theories that made him an intellectual force in both computer science and physics.
“Ed Fredkin had more ideas per day than most people have in a month,” Gerald Sussman, a professor of electronic engineering and a longtime colleague at M.I.T., said in a phone interview. “Most of them were bad, and he would have agreed with me on that. But out of those, there were good ideas, too. So he had more good ideas in a lifetime than most people ever have.”
After serving as a fighter pilot in the Air Force in the early 1950s, Professor Fredkin became a renowned, if unconventional, scientific thinker. He was a close friend and intellectual sparring partner of the celebrated physicist Richard Feynman and the renowned computer scientist Marvin Minsky, a trailblazer in artificial intelligence.