The debt I contracted in the writing of this book is so large it can’t be repaid, barely acknowledged.
The legendary William Zinsser started me on this journey, though that brilliant writer’s writer and I met not through writing, but through music—exploring together over more than a decade the American Songbook. Toward the end of his life, when he’d become too blind to read, I’d guide him from the piano to sit, where I’d read aloud to him: sometimes his own writing, sometimes passages from my manuscript. By then he was in his 90s, but with taste so acute that a single sentence, a phrase, a word, could make him smile in delight, or frown with affront (he’d have blue-penciled the adjective legendary, but so he was, and is). My memories of those sessions are exquisite.
The two men this book is dedicated to, my late husband, Joseph F. Traub, and my lifelong friend and sometimes co-author, Edward Feigenbaum, were the fiercest supporters any writer could wish. Each of them read early versions of the manuscript, corrected and praised with generosity, and urged me on when I was faltering, because they believed that I was telling an essential story about the early days of artificial intelligence. Mary Shaw generously volunteered to read the entire manuscript (for she had lived through those times too) and suggested amendments I thank her for. Susan Buckley read important parts, and made judicious editorial suggestions, as did Paul Newell. When Joe and I were lucky enough to spend a sabbatical semester in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Patrick Henry Winston spent time with me explicating his own work on the centrality of story telling to intelligence, and arranged for me to meet other, younger members of the MIT faculty whose work was shaping the next generation of AI applications. He also invited me to sit in on beginning sessions of the MIT-Harvard Brains, Minds, and Machines seminars, weekly seminars that continue lustily, bringing together neuroscientists, computer scientists, engineers, and others with an interest in brains, minds, and machines, who learn from and argue with each other weekly. These early sessions were deeply valuable to me, and his death in July 2019 is a profound loss—professional and personal.
With Deirdre David, a literary scholar and biographer, I had illuminating conversations about the art of biography, the art of memoir, and the glories of the 19th century English novel, her professional specialties and my amateur delights. She was especially helpful in enlarging my knowledge of C. P. Snow and his wife, novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson.
A number of AI researchers also took time to be interviewed, including Oren Etzioni, Edward Feigenbaum, Eric Horvitz, Jaron Lanier, Kathy McKeown, Marvin Minsky, Peter Norvig, Tomaso Poggio, Raj Reddy, Dan Siewiorek, Manuela Veloso, Jeanette Wing, Patrick Henry Winston, and many participants in the 2014 AI Summit in Brooklyn, New York. For the digital humanities, I was happy to be able to talk to David Blei, Edmund Campion, Anthony Cascardi, Charles Faulhaber, Elizabeth Honig, and Niek Veldhuis. Larry Rasmussen was a splendid tutor in ethics.
A mind must inhabit some kind of body, so it’s only right that I thank the people who found me in a grave health emergency, my sister, Sandra McCorduck-Marona, and my brother, John McCorduck, and took the first steps to save my life. My accomplished and humane physicians at the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Hospital, Jerry Gliklich and Peter Green, made sure I’d live to write many another day. Hila Paldi and Lisa Goldin, accomplished Pilates instructors, kept the pre-emergency and the recovered flesh and bones humming. My longtime housekeeper, Beryl Sibblies, lovingly lifted many responsibilities from me, when I know she would have preferred to retire.
An outstanding team at Carnegie Mellon’s ETC Press: Signature, including Keith Webster, Brad King, Drew Davidson and Julia Corrin, encouraged and supported me in every way. Rebecca Huehls did a masterful job of fact-checking and copy-editing under the most trying circumstances. I owe each of them my deep thanks.