Skidompha Library plans to host Bill Silver Thursday, April 13, for a talk on artificial intelligence. He is shown soldering with Sage Kasky. Submitted photo

DAMARISCOTTA — The Chats with Champions program is set to host Bill Silver at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 13, in the Porter Meeting Hall of Skidompha Library, 184 Main St.

Silver will speak about artificial intelligence.

Talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is suddenly all around, according to a news release from Meghan Hawkes, communications coordinator at the library.

Silver will discuss the following questions. What is AI, as the term is commonly used today? What distinguishes it from other computer technology that is not AI? Why now? AI as a field of research goes back to the late 1950s, but something seems different now. How did we get here? AI is powered by the silicon transistors on computer chips. Human intelligence is powered by organic chemistry. How do silicon transistors and organic chemistry compare in raw computational power in 2023? What might this say about a world in which we coexist with AI?

Silver earned a degree in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975. As an undergrad he underwent a life-changing experience at MIT’s Weather Radar lab, where he started as a student technician and eventually wrote almost all of the software that ran the lab’s computers. In 1977 he left Weather Radar to fulfill his dream of being accepted as a graduate student at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, working towards a doctorate with a specialty in machine vision and robotics.

Silver was at the AI Lab for four years, earning a master’s degree and publishing original research in robotics. But in 1981 at age 27 he dropped out of the doctorate program to become co-founder of Cognex, a high-tech startup in Boston. Cognex wanted to be a player in the emerging field of industrial machine vision, using computers to analyze live images for industrial assembly, inspection, robot guidance, and code reading applications. So too did dozens of other startups, and early on the market was thick with competitors. Most did not survive the 1980s, and Cognex barely did, but by the end of the decade he had developed groundbreaking technology that became indispensable in semiconductor manufacturing and beyond. Cognex is now 42 years old, the recognized world leader in industrial machine vision, with employees and customers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.


Silver was for many years the technical leader at Cognex, and in the vision industry as a whole. Among other achievements he has been awarded more than 80 U.S. and foreign patents, many of which have since expired and now belong to the public. He continues to work at Cognex, mostly writing C++ code while serving as senior fellow.

He and his wife Judy, who live in Nobleboro, are known locally for their Gizmo Garden programs, which ran from 2015 to 2019 at Skidompha Library. The program immersed middle- and high-school kids in electronics, robotics, and programming.

Chats with Champions is a free community offering from the library. Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops sponsors this program.

For more information, call the library at 207-887-0919.



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