"It seems strange to ask questions of a machine," the child wisely opined in a book written sixty years ago. Today, it seems strange not to. Even stranger is re-reading a book you read as an innocent fourth-grader through the weary eyes of an aging adult. You come to realize that some things never change. Hairstyles and skirt lengths may rise and fall, but the world is still full of people trying to avoid hard work.
After five decades of watching computers get ever smaller and their powers ever greater, your gentle blogger realized to her dismay that Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine was no longer the charming children's book she remembered. It's more than simple tale about smart kids growing up in the 1950s using a computer to do their homework and getting away with it; it's an open window into techonological goals being set by educators and computer geniuses back before most homes had color TVs.
As a nine-year-old, I didn't pay any attention to the Acknowledgment Page when I read the book years ago, but I did this time. Seems the University of Pennsylvania's Educational Service Bureau was already asking the question of whether using a computer to assist with homework assignments was helpful or harmful for young minds. They concluded that in order to program a computer to do your homework, you had to know the subject matter first. Therefore, it wasn't cheating. (This incredible factoid appears on the Acknowledgment Page, and for anyone who cares to read it, I invite you to read Danny Dunn, Part Three.) This may have been true in the early 1960s, but most certainly does not apply to today, when Google's prodigious AI capabilities insist on finishing the words in the search box for you before you can even think of them yourself.
Danny Dunn's mentor, Professor Bullfinch, named his contraption "Miniac," short for "Miniature Computer." This sounded so much to my adult ears like Apple's Mac® that I had to spend an hour or so looking up the origin of that brand name just to be sure it wasn't that Steve Jobs liked the Danny Dunn story, too.
The story goes that Steve Jobs had been to visit an apple farm, inspiring him to select that name for his company, and that later on Jeff Ruskin picked Macintosh to go with that. Never mind that Macintosh doesn't go with the correct spelling of McIntosh apples. I prefer my own theory, which is that they went with the Apple logo because it was going to be an infinitely tempting product, like the infamous apple in the Garden of Eden, but what do I know?
Back in the 1950s, a miniature computer was one that didn't fill an entire warehouse. Did they know, way back then, what was coming down the microchip assembly line in the not-too-distant future? Do we?
To be continued...
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If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.