e-book: When Things Start to Think

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 10: Seeing Through Windows

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

I vividly recall a particular car trip from my childhood because it was when I invented the laptop computer. I had seen early teletype terminals; on this trip I accidentally opened a book turned on its side and realized that there was room on the lower page for a small typewriter keyboard, and on the upper page for a small display screen. I didn’t have a clue how to make such a thing, or what I would do with it, but I knew that I had to have one. I had earlier invented a new technique for untying shoes, by pulling on the ends of the laces; I was puzzled and suspicious when my parents claimed prior knowledge of my idea. It would take me many more years to discover that Alan Kay had anticipated my design for the laptop and at that time was really inventing the portable personal computer at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 11: The Nature of Computation

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

HOW. . . will things that think be developed? by taking advantage of what nature already knows how to do. Through research that maximizes contact, not constraints. With education that happens as it is needed, rather than in advance. By interconnecting systems of people and things to solve hard problems.

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 12: The Business of Discovery

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

There used to be quite a demand for psychic mediums who would go into “spirit cabinets” and channel fields to contact lost souls who would communicate by making sounds. In my lab, once we had developed the techniques to induce and measure weak electric fields around the human body, we realized that we could make a modern-day spirit cabinet (well, everything but the lost souls part). So of course we had to do a magic trick, which we were soon working on with the magicians Penn & Teller, who were planning a small opera with Tod Machover. We expected to have fun; we didn’t expect to save the lives of infants, or learn something about how industry and academia can remove technological barriers by removing organizational barriers.

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 13: Information and Education

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

Nicholas Negroponte is the visible face of the Media Lab, an articulate advocate of being digital. Far fewer people know of Jerome Wiesner’s role. Jerry was MIT’s president, and Kennedy’s science advisor. He’s been described as the member of the administration during that exceptional era who was not only smart, but also wise.

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 14: Things That Think

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

In the beginning, our collective vision of computation was shaped by the reality: large machines, with lots of blinking lights, that were used by specialists doing rather ominous things for the military or industry. Popular Mechanics in 1949 made the bold guess that “Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1.5 tons.” Later came the fictional images inspired by this reality, captured by the Jetsons’ cartoon world that put the trappings of big computers everywhere, cheerfully filling their lives with the same kinds of buttons and blinking lights.

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Afterword

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

Reading about science is like reading about food or exercise. The description can be very interesting, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. That applies to this book. In explaining what is happening I’ve made no attempt to convey or document the details. The best way to follow up is to learn something of those details.

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