Chapter 4 

Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Greenblatt and Gosper:

Ricky Greenblatt was a born hacker, although when asked whether a hacker is born or made, he said, “If hackers are born, then they're going to get made, and if they're made into it, they were born.” He was an intelligent child, and used to play chess and make electrical devices at an early age. When he first got into MIT he was intent on making the Dean's List, but by his sophomore year he flunked out, because he was spending too much time hacking relay circuits at the TMRC and programming for the PDP-1. He even programmed a FORTRAN compiler for the PDP-1.

Bill Gosper was a math genius. He took a programming course with John McCarthy, and Minsky's course on artificial intelligence. The hackers enjoyed Chinese food, and they would order anything that seemed interesting to their exploratory minds. Most did not have much of a social life outside of hacking, and some such as Greenblatt were notorious for their lack of personal hygiene. Gosper managed to graduate, but he had to work to pay back the tuition money that the Navy had paid him. Gosper did not like the Navy culture which did not allow programmers near the computers, and he hated the UNIVAC computer that they used since he considered it erroneous in its very design. He managed to work for a private company and later for Project MAC.

Greenblatt decided to write a better chess program because he found Kotok's version to be lacking in strategy. The program was good enough to defeat an academic named Hubert Dreyfus who had proclaimed that no chess program would be good enough to beat a ten-year-old. Although the hackers proved the skeptic wrong, their Hacker Ethic concluded that convincing the outside world of the merits of computers was not as interesting as hacking them.