The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Remembering Marvin Minsky

While I was working at One Laptop per Child, I noticed a small, birdlike man perched over my shoulder looking at my two screens. Hmmm he looks familiar from one of my books maybe, oh shit, it’s Marvin Minsky!

Henry, what are you doing?

!He knows my name!

This to me was roughly the equivalent of being a fair to middling painter tending to your business and suddenly Leonardo da Vinci shows up and is asking you what are you doing, by name.

SO I explained well I am doing this that and the other thing and then I said you know Marvin, 90% of what I am doing is repetitive in nature and goes in through standard in and out through standard out. When can I have an AI that can do this 90% of the work for me?

And without pausing he said. “Five years.”


We both busted out laughing.

The same answer, I suppose, he had been giving since 1959, when he co-founded the predecessor of CSAIL, the year he became an MIT Professor and the year I was born.

I also had a long conversation with him in another instance about how AI needed to use the basic story structures of folklore in order to construct narratives about events that humans would remember and regard as credible and later I gave him a copy of Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale.

A great mind, an excellent listener and a lovely gentleman.

Copyright © 2016 Henry Edward Hardy

Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88

29 January, 2016 Posted by | AI, Artificial Intelligence, folktale, Marvin Minsky, Rememberence, scanlyze, Vladimir Propp | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aaronsw Is Not My Hero

Seems everyone is lionizing Aaron Swartz. Aaron is someone I was acquainted with peripherally through mutual friends at One Laptop. He was, and remains, my friend on Facebook. I have to say aaronsw is not my hero.

If I thought it was justified to take all the documents in JSTOR I would have done when I was the sysadmin for the company that wrote the first interface to it. I don’t and I didn’t. I never even looked at a single document and I had root on everything.

Same is true for the American Mathematical Society and about a million of their documents I worked on the public interface for back in the 80’s. Never looked at a one.

Aaron was very charismatic, brilliant, and had a lot of good ideas. But he also according to what has come out, acted incredibly stupidly in the whole scenario with JSTOR and MIT. They kept blocking him and he kept coming back. Hello, clue?

But maybe he thought of this as civil disobedience and in some sense meant to get caught. If so I think he totally wimped out rather than doing the six months they offered him or going to trial and potentially taking a draconian sentence.

Not to say I think he was treated fairly. Given that JSTOR and MIT saw no reason to prosecute (or that’s the official story at MIT now anyway), and that there is apparently no evidence that documents were ever exfiltrated off-site or published if I was the prosecutor I would have exercised discretion and taken a pass on this one. No harm, no foul.

It worries me that Aaron is being made out to be a hero who deserves to be be emulated. He wasn’t, and he doesn’t.

Aaron Swartz (wikipedia)

Copyright © 2014 Henry Edward Hardy

12 February, 2014 Posted by | Aaron Swartz, aaronsw, archives, censorship, media, MIT, news, OLPC, politics, scanlyze, suicide | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The people who built the Internet

From 1969 to 2013, the Internet has gone from this:

First four ARPANET nodes
First four ARPANET nodes

to this:
Visualization of part of
Visualization of part of

I’m going to talk about some of the people who I think were important in setting the shape of things to come. My criteria isn’t really who is most worthy but rather, who did really important things, is interesting, and some early figures have a local Boston connection as you will see.

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush

Tufts BS and MS dual-degree 1913
PhD Engineering 1917 jointly from Harvard and MIT
Worked at Tufts till 1919
American Radio and Research Corporation (AMRAD) at Tufts continuing
1922 founded the American Appliance Company in Cambridge, which became Raytheon
1927 differential analyzer, an analog computer that could solve first order differential equations of up to 18 variables
MIT Prof from 1919
VP and Dean of Engineering at MIT from 1932
One of his students was Claude Shannon, who went on to write “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” an important foundational work in information theory
Headed National Research Defense Council 1938 (later Office of Scientific Research and Development). As such he initiated the Manhatten Project which developed the first atomic bombs.
1938 appointed vice-chair to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which he soon ended up chairing. This was the forerunner of NASA.
Declined to fund Norburt Weiner’s digital computer project, but the Army did. This became ENIAC, one of the first all-purpose general programmable digital computers.
Later instrumental in setting up the National Science Foundation.

As We May Think:

“The camera hound of the future wears on his forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut. It takes pictures 3 millimeters square, later to be projected or enlarged, which after all involves only a factor of 10 beyond present practice…

The Encyclopoedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk. If the human race has produced since the invention of movable type a total record, in the form of magazines, newspapers, books, tracts, advertising blurbs, correspondence, having a volume corresponding to a billion books, the whole affair, assembled and compressed, could be lugged off in a moving van. Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also to be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled by a few…

All this is conventional, except for the projection forward of present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing…

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by its patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior…

The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only at the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected…

The impulses which flow in the arm nerves of a typist convey to her fingers the translated information which reaches her eye or ear, in order that the fingers may be caused to strike the proper keys. Might not these currents be intercepted, either in the original form in which information is conveyed to the brain, or in the marvelously metamorphosed form in which they then proceed to the hand?

In the outside world, all forms of intelligence, whether of sound or sight, have been reduced to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted. Inside the human frame exactly the same sort of process occurs. Must we always transform to mechanical movements in order to proceed from one electrical phenomenon to another? It is a suggestive thought, but it hardly warrants prediction without losing touch with reality and immediateness…”

Atlantic Monthly, July 1945

Claude Shannon

Claude Shannon

Claude Shannon

Student of Vannevar Bush at MIT
Proved that Boolean algebra can resolve any logical or mathematical syllogism or operation — thus logic and mathematics can be reduced to zeros and ones
Mathematical Theory of Communication — uniting information theory and thermodynamics
Co-invented first wearable computer

Norbert Weiner

Norbert Wiener

Norbert Weiner — Cybernetics, 1947

MIT prof
Probability theory used in information theory
Cybernetics 1947
Human in the loop–feedback
ENIAC — Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer –1946



JCR Licklider

JCR Licklider

JCR Licklider

Project SAGE
Man-Computer Symbiosis
Memos to the Intergalactic Computer Network

“In the foregoing, I must have exercised several network features. I engaged in information retrieval through some kind of system that looked for programs to meet certain requirements I had in mind. Presumably, this was a system based upon descriptors, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, and not in the near future, upon computer appreciation of natural language. However, it would be pleasant to use some of the capabilities of avant-garde linguistics. In using the borrowed programs, I effected some linkages between my programs and the borrowed ones. Hopefully, I did this without much effort–hopefully, the linkages were set up–or the basis for making them was set up–when the programs were brought into the part of the stytem [sic.] that I was using. I did not borrow any data, but that was only because I was working on experimental data of my own. If I had been trying to test some kind of a theory, I would have wanted to borrow data as well as programs.

When the computer operated the programs for me, I suppose that the activity took place in the computer at SDC, which is where we have been assuming I was. However, I would just as soon leave that on the level of inference. With a sophisticated network-control system, I would not decide whether to send the data and have them worked on by programs somewhere else, or bring in programs and have them work on my data. I have no great objection to making that decision, for a while at any rate, but, in principle, it seems better for the computer, or the network, somehow, to do that. At the end of my work, I filed some things away, and tried to do it in such a way that they would be useful to others. That called into play, presumably, some kind of a convention-monitoring system that, in its early stages, must almost surely involve a human criterian as well as maching [sic.] processing.”

Project MAC Director, 1968-71
Project on Mathematics and Computation — now (more or less) CSAIL at MIT
Developed MULTICS — Multiplexed Information and Computing Service 1965-2000
MULTICS was important for:
No distinction between files and process memory — similar to tmpfs
Dynamic linking
Online hardware reconfiguration
Hierarchical file system
User shell

Brian Kernighan (Project MAC, then Bell Labs) and Dennis Ritchie (Harvard, Bell Labs) wrote C

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie from Project Mac went on to write UNIX 1969-1973

Bill Joy and others backported everything in UNIX to make BSD 1973-1994
Andrew Tannebaum wrote MINIX 1987, which Linus Torvalds turned into Linux 1991

started by two MIT professors and a student
originally specializing in acoustics
did defense work for submarine detection
Licklider became a star at ARPA
his vision for the Intergalactic Computer Network became the basis for the ARPAnet
First IMPs, ancestors of routers
First autonomous system of the ARPA internet, AS1 (now owned by Level 3 Communications)

“The earliest ideas for a computer network intended to allow general communications among computer users were formulated by computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), in April 1963, in memoranda discussing his concept for an “Intergalactic Computer Network”. Those ideas contained almost everything that composes the contemporary Internet. In October 1963, Licklider was appointed head of the Behavioral Sciences and Command and Control programs at the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency — ARPA (the initial ARPANET acronym). He then convinced Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor that this computer network concept was very important and merited development, although Licklider left ARPA before any contracts were let that worked on this concept.[5]

Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor continued their interest in creating such a computer communications network, in part, to allow ARPA-sponsored researchers at various corporate and academic locales to put to use the computers ARPA was providing them, and, in part, to make new software and other computer science results quickly and widely available.[6] In his office, Taylor had three computer terminals, each connected to separate computers, which ARPA was funding: the first, for the System Development Corporation (SDC) Q-32, in Santa Monica; the second, for Project Genie, at the University of California, Berkeley; and the third, for Multics, at MIT. Taylor recalls the circumstance: “For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So, if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C., and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley, or M.I.T., about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. I said, “Oh Man!”, it’s obvious what to do: If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go. That idea is the ARPANET”.[7] Somewhat contemporaneously, several other people had (mostly independently) worked out the aspects of “packet switching”, with the first public demonstration presented by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), on 5 August 1968, in the United Kingdom.[8]”

“The initial ARPANET consisted of four IMPs:[15]

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where Leonard Kleinrock had established a Network Measurement Center, with an SDS Sigma 7 being the first computer attached to it;
The Stanford Research Institute’s Augmentation Research Center, where Douglas Engelbart had created the ground-breaking NLS system, a very important early hypertext system (with the SDS 940 that ran NLS, named “Genie”, being the first host attached);
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), with the Culler-Fried Interactive Mathematics Center’s IBM 360/75, running OS/MVT being the machine attached;
The University of Utah’s Computer Science Department, where Ivan Sutherland had moved, running a DEC PDP-10 operating on TENEX.

The first message on the ARPANET was sent by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline, at 10:30 pm on 29 October 1969, from Boelter Hall 3420.[16] Kline transmitted from the university’s SDS Sigma 7 Host computer to the Stanford Research Institute’s SDS 940 Host computer. The message text was the word login; the l and the o letters were transmitted, but the system then crashed. Hence, the literal first message over the ARPANET was lo. About an hour later, having recovered from the crash, the SDS Sigma 7 computer effected a full login. The first permanent ARPANET link was established on 21 November 1969, between the IMP at UCLA and the IMP at the Stanford Research Institute. By 5 December 1969, the entire four-node network was established.[17]”

1971 Ray Tomlinson of BBN sent the first internetwork email — invention of the use of the @ sign for email addresses

Larry Roberts

Larry Roberts

Larry Roberts

MIT BS, MS, PhD 1963
Lincoln Labs
1966 program manager in the ARPA Information Processing Techniques Office
funded ARPAnet
Bob Taylor -> Viet Nam 1969, Roberts became director of IPTO
left 1973

Bob Khan

Robert Khan

Robert Khan

MA, PhD Princeton 1962/64
Bell Labs then asst prof MIT
BBN develop first IMP
1972 IPTO
1972 demostrate ARPANET by connecting 20 computers
Developed NCP and TCP/IP with others such as Vint Cerf
left DARPA 1986
1992 with Cerf helped to found Internet Society

Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn being awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by President Bush

Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn being awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by President Bush

Don Davies

Donald Davies

Donald Davies

Imperial College
1947 started at NPL
Working with Alan Turing who was designing the Atomatic Computing Engine
Invented term packet-switching


ACE, the Automatic Computing Engine 1950
Mark I, the first packet-switched network, 1970
First modern packet-switched terrestrial network (aside from automatic telegraph)

Len Kleinrock

Leonard Kleinrock and the first Interface Message Processor

Leonard Kleinrock and the first Interface Message Processor

Routing MIT PhD thesis 1962 MIT
UCLA Prof 1963 to today
First ARPANET connection — his student programmer Charley Kline
The first message was l-o crash
First ARPANET connection between UCLA and ISI at Stanford

Jon Postel

Jon Postel

Jon Postel

PhD in CS UCLA 1974
Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California from 1977
First Arpanet Connection log
RFC’s editor from 1969 to 1998
Wrote or co-wrote more than 200 RFC’s
IANA founder and head for 30 years — allocated all internet numeric addresses
Administered .us domain
DNS arbitration
Took over the internet in 1998, well 2/3 of it
Only person who has an obituary as an RFC (written by Vint Cerf): RFC 2468: I remember IANA
Robustness Principle (“Postel’s Law”): Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others (often reworded as “Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept”).

Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf helped invent TCP/IP

Cultural leader
Requiem for the ARPANET
Jon Postel’s obituary RFC 2468 I remember IANA

Larry Landweber

Larry Landweber

Lawrence Landweber

First inter-network TCP/IP connection

Dave Clark

Dave Clark

David Clark

MIT PhD 1973
Project MAC
We reject Kings Presidents and Voting
Vice Chair of FCC Open Internet Advisory Committee
“In 1968, he received his Master’s and Engineer’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked on the I/O architecture of Multics under Jerry Saltzer. He received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1973. From 1981 to 1989, he acted as chief protocol architect in the development of the Internet, and chaired the Internet Activities Board, which later became the Internet Architecture Board. He has also served as chairman of the Computer Sciences and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council. He is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.”

“We reject: kings, presidents and voting.
We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”

[The origin of the above is notes from my lecture at Tufts University for the Tufts System Administrator’s Affinity Group, 2013-03-28]

Copyright © 2013 Henry Edward Hardy

28 March, 2013 Posted by | ARPANET, history, internet, MIT, packet switching, scanlyze, Tufts | , , , , , | Leave a comment