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Erlkönig: AI Koans

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A novice was trying to fix a broken lisp machine by turning the power off and on. Knight, seeing what the student was doing spoke sternly You can not fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.

Knight turned the machine off and on.

The machine worked.


So Sussman began working on a program. Not long after, this odd-looking bald guy came over. Sussman figured the guy was going to boot him out, but instead the man sat down, asking, Hey, what are you doing? Sussman talked over his program with the man, Marvin Minsky. At one point in the discussion, Sussman told Minsky that he was using a certain randomizing technique in his program because he didn't want the machine to have any preconceived notions. Minsky said, Well, it has them, it's just that you don't know what they are. It was the most profound thing Gerry Sussman had ever heard. And Minsky continued, telling him that the world is built a certain way, and the most important thing we can do with the world is avoid randomness, and figure out ways by which things can be planned. Wisdom like this has its effect on seventeen-year-old freshmen, and from then on Sussman was hooked.

One day a student came to Moon and said, I understand how to make a better garbage collector. We must keep a reference count of the pointers to each cons. Moon patiently told the student the following story:

One day a student came to Moon and said, I understand how to make a better garbage collector...

  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."
  "Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky.
  "I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play"
  Minsky 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.

A student, in hopes of understanding the Lambda-nature, came to
Greenblatt.  As they spoke a Multics system hacker walked by.  "Is it
true", asked the student, "that PL-1 has many of the same data types as
Lisp".  Almost before the student had finshed his question, Greenblatt
shouted, "FOO!", and hit the student with a stick.

A disciple of another sect once came to Drescher as he was eating his
morning meal.  "I would like to give you this personality test", said
the outsider,"because I want you to be happy." Drescher took the paper
that was offered him and put it into the toaster- "I wish the toaster to
be happy too".

A cocky novice once said to Stallman: "I can guess why the editor is
called Emacs, but why is the justifier called Bolio?". Stallman replied
forcefully, "Names are but names, `Emac & Bolio's` is the name of a con-
fectionary shop in Boston-town. Neither of these men had anything to do
with the software."
His question answered, yet unanswered, the novice turned to go, but
Stallman called to him, "Neither Emac or Bolio had anything to do with
the ice cream shop, either."

Yes, you guested it, an ice cream koan.
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Walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm.
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