Prelapsarian software

In the myth, back in the good old days of the MIT AI lab, programmers lived by the hacker ethos and were above such low things as trade and commerce. Scientifically, it’s clear that the AI Lab was the least interesting part of the old Project MAC – which produced Multics. The AI project itself was at the same time technically shallow and profoundly creepy. The “fall” when Symbolics split out of the lab and looked for revenue beyond military funding doesn’t strike me as immoral. I just don’t accept the theory that writing and giving away software for the Defense Department is ethically superior to selling “proprietary” software. Software was free when it had no commercial value: when it was either tightly tied to hardware vendors products or produced mostly as military research.

Marge Piercy’s classic feminist novel Small Changes features a programmer heroine in Cambridge Mass in the early 1970s and provides a rather unpleasant picture of the technology world.

Confession: the primary motivation of this post was an excuse to use the word “prelapsarian”.

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