All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

A friend of mine is starting Computer Science in college. She is learning to code in Java and is experiencing the transfixing feeling of commanding machines for first time. I remember perfectly the thrill, and even feel it still sometimes, although now it’s indissolubly connected with a cynical perspective on the software industry. But I digress.

Yesterday we were talking about the courses she is taking right now and she mentioned Operating Systems. I mentioned that it’s an amazing topic from a technical point of view but instantly sidetracked the conversation to my favourite angle on this area: the folklore and history of Unix and the creation of the Personal Computer during the 60-70s.

She mentioned that it would be great to read more about it, so I checked my Kindle library and refreshed my memories to share what I’ve read, watched and found interesting on this area. I guess it will interesting to share it here for other people that maybe interested. Without more preamble, the list:

  • The part 2 of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. You will be introduced to some of the foundational characters on Cybernetics, Networks and Systems theory, in a broad perspective. The whole series is worth watching though.
  • This is one of the key names in the philosophy behind the Californian ideology that shaped the dawn of the PC and the operating systems. The history of Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog.

  • Markoff is a great witness of this era:

  • And if you like Markoff he just published a new book I’m reading now on the actual state of AI and automation and how self-driving Teslas can be traced back to the old Augmenting-Humans VS. AIs-should-be-in-charge confrontation:

  • The mother of all Demos will blow your mind. The name is not gratuitous grandiosity. For many of us this is the foundational moment that defined what is a PC.
  • Especially when you read about its context and who was the camera operator :).

  • More on the valley’s society on the 60s and its connection with the creation of the Internet and the clash of Mainframe Crewcuts with the PC hippies:

  • And finally another key name in this story: Xerox PARC, where they created every modern implementation of Engelbart’s ideas just to fail miserably at selling these ideas to the Corporation:

  • Stephenson is always great, and this is a good short intro to what happened next: Microsoft, Apple, Linux et al.

  • And finally –although it should be probably the first on this list– a 30-years-earlier prologue on the minds of those that made everything possible: