Nov

20

In a land far, far away, almost thirty years ago, I worked on a mainframe with hundreds of terminals, and it occurred to me that I could write an OS script to enable users at different screens to have text conversations with each other. As perhaps the only person in the building with any interest in so doing, when the script was finished I had to test it by informing colleagues that I had written an AI program. When they typed the appropriate command at the prompt (on teletype printers I think rather than screens) they would be presented with two options — Psychology or Polite Conversation. By this time I had disappeared to my own console ready to don my Freudian or friendly hat. Not everyone guessed immediately what was going on and some polite conversations or analyses were able to develop — I was eventually quizzed by my boss who I suspect was not entirely unamused. Ten years later, it was the birth pangs of the Web and bulletin boards were already popular with techies and those with access to equipment at work or school. I set up a math group on one of the UK boards and set a programming puzzle that seemed of technical as well as philosophical interest — to write some code (in any language) whose output is the same as the code which drives it. I think someone solved it by using a print file command where the said file was suitably set up first — if I ever set this poser again I must be sure to exclude printing files. Thankfully the web came along and now one has to be truly original to be original. I love the way we all act as synapses and what used to take years can now happen in a day.

Sam Humbert comments:

"To write some code (in any language) whose output is the same as the code which drives it" is a well-known idea, at least nowadays. This is called a Quine, after the philosopher W. V. Quine.


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