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The hacker community


Modelling my recruitment policy on Oliver Selfridge's lab
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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He was my model for the laboratory I started with the hackers; that is, I didn’t hire people to do jobs, I hired people who had goals, and… were already inventing… if somebody had invented two or three really new kinds of programs, I’d gobble them up and… my way of hiring people after that was… we had a lot of money from the Office of Naval Research because of Licklider, who had gone to Washington and started this thing called ARPA. So he sent me a lot of money, and if I… so I was… what I was able to do is, if somebody sent a message or a letter – because there was no ARPANET yet – they’d say: 'I’m interested in this', and I’d say: 'Well, why don’t you come here and see how you like working here?' And somebody would come for a week or two. We’d pay them, [sic] enough to live on, and then they’d go away if they didn’t hit it off. I don’t remember ever making a decision to tell someone to go away; it’s really very bizarre, but this was a self-energizing community, these hackers had their own language, they could get things done in three days that would take a month, and if somebody appeared who had the talent, the magic touch, they would fit in.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Washington, ARPA, Office of Naval Research, ONR, Joseph Licklider, Oliver Selfridge

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 09 May 2011