In 1959, MIT offered a new course on computer programming that was available for Freshmen. The teacher of this new course was an absent minded professor by the name of John McCarthy. McCarthy researched on a controversial new form of computer study. Artificial Intelligence. He believed that computers could be “smart”. The general consensus ruled that this thought was ridiculous. Computers were considered to be (absurdly expensive) useful tools for crunching numbers, calculations, and devising missile defense systems. The idea that computers could be an actual scientific field of study was scoffed at.
McCarthy worked in the Electrical Engineering Department with a few other specialists. He began a project with the IBM 704 to teach it how to play chess. It was a fascinating endeavor but not what individuals like Sampson and Kotok had in mind. They were solely focused on getting their hands on the machine. The hacker group from the TMRC had been devising ways in order to get closer to the computer. This meant hanging around the Computation Center and getting to know the individuals in charge of entering in the program punch cards. These individuals were commonly known as the Priesthood. After bowing enough times as playing nice, Kotok and a few other individuals were allowed to push a few buttons and watch the lights flicker away.
A few programmers who worked alongside McCarthy created a program that utilized a row of these lights. It looked like a ball being passed from left to right. When an operator hit a switch, it would change direction. Computer ping-pong! Top programmers would look at a program like this and try to do the same but with fewer instructions. Despite the immense size to these computers,
they had very little memory. This meant that getting the most out of the fewest instructions was crucial. To some, this challenge became somewhat of an obsession. Because of the excitement that they got from maximizing their code, McCarthy compared them to “ski bums” because the thrill the got was much like that of a skier flying down a hill at top speed.