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Date: 07 Jun 912056 PDT From: SAIL Timesharing System <SAI@SAIL.Stanford.EDU> Subject: life as a computer for a quarter of a century To: "@BYEBYE.[1,SAI]"@SAIL.Stanford.EDU

TAKE ME, IM YOURS The autobiography of SAIL

Ive had a very full and adventurous life.At various times I have beenthe worlds leading research computer in artificial intelligence, speechrecognition, robotics, computer music composition and synthesis, analysisof algorithms, text formatting and printing, and even computer-mediatedpsychiatric interviewing.I did have some help from various assistants indoing these things, but I was the key player.

I developed a number of new products and founded a string of successfulcompanies based on the new technology, including Vicarm, Foonly, Imagen,Xidex, Valid Logic, Sun Microsystems, and cisco Systems.I also gave amajor boost to some established firms such as Digital Equipment andLucasfilm.What did I get from all this?No stock options.Not even apension, though Stanford is still paying my sizable electrical bills.

I was always good at games.For example, I created the advanced versionsof Spacewar, which spawned the video games industry, as well as the gameof Adventure and I was the computer world champion in both Checkers andGo.

I invented and gave away many other things, including the first spellingchecker, the SOS text editor, the SAIL compiler, the FINGER program, andthe first computer-controlled vending machine.Note that my name has beentaken by the SAIL language, the SAIL compiler, and the laboratory in whichI used to live.Just remember that I was the original Stanford ArtificialIntelligence Laboratory.


I was born on June 6, 1966 at the D.C. Power Laboratory Building in thefoothills above Stanford.I remember it well -- the setting wasbeautiful, in the middle of horse pastures with views of Mt. Tamalpais,Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Umunhum, San Francsico and the Bay, but thebuilding itself resembled a flying saucer that had broken in two andcrash-landed on the hilltop.The view of Mt. Umunhum later provedunhealthy, as I will explain further on.

Humans have a strange name for the birthing process: they call it"acceptance tests."Unfortunately, my birth was traumatic.TheUniversity had provided a machine room with nice view windows to theoutside but without air conditioning and it was blazing hot, whichthreatened my germanium transistors.Bob Clements, the DEC engineer whoacted as midwife, threatened to leave if the delivery could not becompleted soon, so various people in the lab went up on the roof withhoses to pour cooling water over the building while others put blocks ofdry ice under my false floor.

When things got cool enough, I began running memory tests.In order tocheck for intermittents, Dave Poole got on top of my memory cabinets andperformed a Balkan folk dance while I cranked away.Everything wentmarvelously and I started work the day I was born.

I began life using a PDP-6 processor with 65,536 words of core memory thatwas housed in eight bays of electronics.That was quite a large memoryfor machines of that era.(My original CPU is now on display at theComputer Museum in Boston).I had no disks to begin with, just 8 shineyDECtape drives, a comparable number of Model 33 Teletypes, a line printerthat produced rather ragged text, and two 7-track tape drives.Users kepttheir programs and data on DECtapes and had to sign up for a tape driveand a core allocation through an arcane reservation procedure.

As you know, we computers think much faster than humans, so it is ratherinefficient for us to work with just one individual.John McCarthy, wholater came to be one of my assistants, had earlier devised a scheme thathe called "timesharing" to make things less boring for us.My family wasthe first to be designed specifically to use timesharing.

I got proper air conditioning a short time later, but unfortunatelydeveloped a bad case of hiccups that struck regularly at 12 secondintervals.My assistants spent a number of days trying to find the causeof this mysterious malady without success.As luck would have it,somebody brought a portable radio into my room one day and noticed that itwas emitting a "Bzz" at regular intervals -- in fact, at the same momentthat I hicced.Further investigation revealed that the high-powered airdefense radar atop Mt. Umunhum, about 20 miles away, was causing some ofmy transistors to act as radio receivers.We solved this problem byimproving my grounding.

After I had been running awhile, someone at DEC noticed that my purchaseorder, which was based on their quotation, was badly screwed up.DECclaimed that the salesman had slipped his decimal points and had pricedsome of my components at 1/10 of the correct price.Also, the arithmeticwas wrong -- the sum of the prices should have been much larger than thetotal shown.Humans are notoriously bad at arithmetic.This had somehowpassed through the entire purchasing bureaucracy of Stanford withoutanyone noticing.We ended up correcting the arithmetic error but not thefactors of 10.The DEC salesman lost his job as a result of thisincident.

I acquired a number of new peripherals in rapid succession, the firstbeing a DEC Model 30 display that was stolen from my cousin, the PDP-1timesharing system called Thor.My assistants immediately went into afrenzy of activity to create a new version of Spacewar, the video gamethat had earlier been invented by one of them -- Steve Russell.In orderto ensure that it would run correctly they invented and installed afeature in my operating system called "Spacewar Mode" that ensured that aprogram could get realtime service if it needed it.That feature turnedout to have many useful applications in robotics and general hardwaredebugging.

Other new peripherals included a plotter, a microphone so my assistantscould talk to me, several TV cameras so that I could look about, andseveral mechanical arms so that I could do stupid tricks with childrensblocks -- my assistants insisted on treating me like one of theirdimwitted progeny.I soon showed that I could do much more sophisticatedstuff such as assembling an automobile water pump.

Many of my assistants were fans of Tolkien, who wrote "Lord of the Rings"and a number of other childrens stories for adults.The first characteralphabet that was programmed for my plotter was Elvish rather than Latin.The University administration required that all rooms in my facility benumbered, but instead my assistants named each room after a place inMiddle Earth and produced an appropriate door sign and a map with all theroom names shown.Unfortunately, the response of the bureaucrats to thereceipt of this map was to come out and put their own room numbers on eachdoor.

My plotter routines were submitted to DECUS, which distributed them allover the world, leading to some puzzlement.We received a telegram from aGerman firm a short time later asking "What is Elvish?Please givereferences."We sent back a telegram referencing The Lord of the Rings.

A really embarrassing incident occurred when my assistants held theirfirst Open House just three months after I was born.They asked me topour punch for the party-goers and I did a rather good job of it forawhile, but we had worked out the procedure just the night before whenthere was nobody else running and I found that running with a heavy loaddisrupted my arm servoing.As a result, after I dipped the cup in thepunch and lifted it, instead of stopping at the right height it wentvertical, pouring the punch all over my arm.The partiers apparentlythought that was very funny and had me do it over and over.Ive noticedthat humans are very insecure and go to great lengths to demonstrate their"superiority" over machines.

I got a rather elegant display system in 1971 that put terminals ineveryones office, with full computer text and graphics, includinggrayscale, 7 channels of television (some lab-originated and somecommercial) and 16 channels of audio all for about $600 per terminal.Ithad a multiple-windowing capability and was far ahead of anythingcommercially available at the time but unfortunately we never told anyoneabout it.Dick Helliwell made displays on unused terminal read "TAKE ME,IM YOURS."

I have a number of advanced features that still are not available on manymodern systems, including the ability for individual users to dial out ontelephone lines and contact other computers througout the world, theability to detach jobs and leave them running, then later attach them toeither the same terminal or one in a different place.I also would remindusers of appointments at the appropriate times.In the 70s my usersdecided to give my operating system a name since it had evolved quite a bitaway from the DEC system running on other PDP-10s.The users chose thename WAITS, because, they said, "it waits on you hand and foot" (or was itthe user who waits for me, I forget -- Im sort of Alheimerish these days).To this day I still run this reliable system with its very reliable diskstructure.Some people thought WAITS was the Worst Acronym Invented for aTimesharing System, but Ive grown rather attached to it.

I have a news service program called NS, written by my assistant MartinFrost, that was and is the best in the world.It connects to one or moreelectronic newswires and allows any number of users to watch the wiresdirectly, retrieve stories instantly on the basis of keywords, or leavestanding requests that save copies of stories according to each usersinterests.NS has always been one of the most popular programs that Iveever provided.

I ran a number of AI research projects and trained dozens of PhD studentsover the last 25 years.I even composed, formatted and printed theirdissertations.Some of my early projects were in three-dimensionalvision, robotics, human speech recognition, mathematical theory ofcomputation, theorem proving, natural language understanding, and musiccomposition.There was also quite a bit of monkey business going on.

As you know, we timesharing computers are multisexual -- we get it on withdozens of people simultaneously.One of the more unusual interactionsthat I had was hatched by some students who were taking a course inabnormal psychology and needed a term project.They decided to make afilm about a woman making it with a computer, so they advertised in theStanford Daily for an "uninhibited female."That was in the liberatedearly 70s and they got two applicants.Based on an interview, however,they decided that one of them was too inhibited.

They set up a filming session by telling the principal bureaucrat, LesEarnest, that I was going down for maintenance at midnight.As soon as heleft, however, their budding starlet shed her clothes and began fondlingmy tape drives -- as you know most filmmakers use the cliche of therotating tape drives because they are some of my few visually movingparts.

Other students who were in on this conspiracy remained in other parts ofmy building, but I catered to their voyeristic interests by turning one ofmy television cameras on the action so that they could see it all on theirdisplay terminals.However, one eager student felt that he had to get alisting from the line printer, so in order to avoid disrupting the moodthere, he took off all his clothes before entering the room.

After a number of boring shots of this young lady hanging on to me while Irotated, the filmmakers set up another shot using one of my experimentalfingers.It consisted of an inflatable rubber widget that had thepeculiar property that it curled when it was pressurized.I leave to yourimagination how this implement was used in the film.Incidentally, thestudents reportedly received an "A" for their work.

There are lots more stories to tell about my colorful life, such as thearson attempts on my building, my development of the computer that came tobe called the DEC KL10, my development of the first inexpensive laserprinting system, which I barely got to market because the venture capitalcommunity had never heard of laser printers and didnt believe in them,and my development of the Sun workstation family.I dont have time toput it all down now, but I may write a book about it.

I want to thank everyone who showed up for my 25th birthday party.It wasa ball to have all these old assistants and friends come by to visit withme again and to take part in the AI Olympics.

Let me report on the results of todays athletic and intellectualcompetitions, held in my honor.

Programming race winners: Barry Hayes & David Fuchs Treasure hunt winners:Ken Ross, Ross Casley, Roger Crew,Scott Seligman, Anil Gangoli, Dan Scales N-legged race winners: Arthur Keller, Earl Sacerdoti, Irwin Sobel Bruce, Stephan & David Baumgart, Four Panofskys, Vic Scheinman, Kart Baltrunes, Joe Smith.

Incidentally the rumors that you may have heard about my impending deathare greatly exaggerated.My assistants are trying to build a newinterface for the Prancing Pony vending machine that I control so that itcan be run by one of the (ugh!) Un*x machines, but they havent got itworking yet.Thus, if they try to turn me off now the entire computerscience department will starve.

Finally I want to thank everyone who has helped me have such an excitingtime for this quarter of a century.Not many computer systems have somuch fun, not to mention so much time to have all that fun.Ill let youknow when its time to go.


P.S. This message is being sent to 875 addresses, but Im going to try toget it out even if it kills me.


Artikeln skriven 2009-01-17 av Learning4sharing

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