A child’s book of AI / A human looks at hawks

Detail from Ezra Jack Keats's cover illustration shows a ponytailed girl holding a bottle of pop with one hand and pushing buttons on a giant spaceship-like panel with the other, as a redheaded, befreckled Danny Dunn (seated next to her, wearing a brown wool turtleneck) studies a paper
Cover detail, Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine (1958)

Today: Harry Siegel, senior editor at THE CITY and co-host of FAQ NYC podcast and columnist at the New York Daily News; and writer B.K. Epler.

Issue No. 21

It Seemed Strange to Ask Questions of a Machine
Harry Siegel

B.K. Epler

From the book, a full-page illustration of the three children and the Professor, who is at the control panel of the enormous computer as Irene leans in to observe in the foreground, with the two boys behind the machine leaning over and watching with a large computer-memory magnetic tape reel behind them.

It Seemed Strange to Ask Questions of a Machine

by Harry Siegel

I finally got the quarter in my jukebox brain to drop and play what might be the perfect caption, to accompany Ezra Jack Keats’s drawing of a schoolgirl leaning on Miniac, short for ‘miniature automatic computer,’ and described by one of the boys there as “the first midget giant brain,” as the Professor mans the controls. 

(In the book it’s a beat longer, with one of the boys suggesting Irene test the machine on a homework problem about what 918 yards of silk would cost, and her reply: “It seems strange to ask questions of a machine, doesn’t it?”)

The machine spits out the correct answer, with a snatch of commentary: 

“$1,377.00,” it wrote.  And, after a second or two, it added, “And worth it.”

It’s a paywall, but a small one

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