Archive for March 27th, 2014

March 27, 2014

Hacker Koan

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Out of hacker culture, and especially the artificial intelligence community at MIT, there have sprung a number of humorous short stories about computer science dubbed hacker koans [koh-ahns]; most of these are recorded in an appendix to the Jargon File (a glossary of computer programmer slang). Most do not fit the usual pattern of koans, but they do tend to follow the form of being short, enigmatic, and often revealing an epiphany.

One notable example, titled¬†‘Uncarved block,’ describes an exchange between professor¬†Marvin Minsky and student Jerry Sussman: ‘In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6. ‘What are you doing?’, asked Minsky. ‘I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe,’ Sussman replied. ‘Why is the net wired randomly?’, asked Minsky. ‘I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play,’ Sussman said. Minsky then shut his eyes. ‘Why do you close your eyes?’ Sussman asked his teacher. ‘So that the room will be empty.’ At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.’

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