Hack History Part 20

The PDP-1 program project was nothing short of a triumph for the Hacker Ethic. As a reward for their level of dedication, they were granted more access to the machine. Almost all of the hackers had relocated their operations into the Kluge Room that housed the new computer. The new programs that took place on the new machine ranged from basic programs like ones to operate a primitive robot arm, to serious, and more whimsical ones. One, in particular, involved a “hacked=up” connection between the PDP-1 and the TX-0. It involved a wire that could pass information one bit at a time, between the machines.

According to Samson, the hackers called the AI pioneer, John McCarthy to take a seat at the PDP-1 in order to test out their new chess program. (Yes, they were still very enthusiastic about completing a working concept). As they had McCarthy make his first move, they pulled another professor to the flexowriter of the TX-0 to respond to the move, believing he was also testing this new program. After a few moves, McCarthy noticed that the moves the computer was outputting were coming in at an unusual pace. Suspicious, he followed the wire to his human opponent in the next room.

The PDP-1 beckoned hackers to program without limit. Samson would spend his time on causal projects and expanding on his music program. He took advantage of the PDP-1’s expanded audio outputs. The people at the DEC heard about Samson’s music and asked him to produce a fully working program. He eventually worked it so someone would be able to type a musical score into the machine, the computer would do a simple conversion of notes into letters and digits, and then respond with a three-voice organ sonata. Samson proudly presented his program to the DEC to distribute to anyone who wanted it. There was never a conversation of royalties. For people like Samson, the software was a gift to the world.

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