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itsjames

Ayn Rand and Computers

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Hey guys, I've been an Ayn Rand fan for almost two decades now. I've recently developed an interest in the history of personal computers and computing, and I was wondering, are there any records of Ayn Rand speaking or writing about computers? Some questions I'm curious about are: Did she ever use a home computer? Was she curious about this new upcoming technology, or was it simply something she wasn't very interested in? If there are any posts, books, videos, etc. anyone could point me to, please do! Thanks!

 

Cheers,

James

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You have to keep in mind that she died in 1982 and was well into retirement several years before that. Computers figured your bank statement and your utility bills, but that was as close as most people got to them. (Did anybody have a personal computer that long ago?)

In one of her lectures (I think it was Philosophy: Who Needs It at West Point circa 1976) she cited the adage of "computer operators" as she put it, "garbage in, garbage out", observing that it applies to our minds as well as to software. She probably meant developers, not operators, who in those days mounted tapes, fed cards into a reader and typed system directives into a paper or CRT console and did not create software. In any event, it was an old-fashioned slogan by the time she cited it. It seems to have originated in the 50s and 60s when hardly anyone knew what a computer was. Most people thought that running your numbers through a computer rather than through a 10-key adding machine magically made your conclusions infallibly sound; the adage she quoted was a reminder that the was never true.

In her 1960 efficient thinking lectures at NBI, Barbara Branden used "Univac" as a synonym of "computer". The company was soon (or maybe already) overtaken by IBM. As the name suggests, they were prominent only in the infancy of computing.

Rand would have loved personal computing and the internet. She was at pains to explain that the big industries of her day - metals, railroads, heavy manufacturing - were an embodiment of our minds. This is much easier to grasp when you look at IT.

Edited by Reidy

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Adding to Reidy's post:

The computers of the 1950's and 1960's were main-frame -- large and programmers were specialists. Personal computers came much later. The Apple I was launched in 1976, and the IBM PC in 1981.

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The following are not trying to answer your question, but:

Object-Oriented Programming and Objectivist Epistemology: Parallels and Implications

From here:

"Most importantly, Booch's Object-Oriented Analysis and Design with Applications, which some people consider "seminal" in the field, explicitly refers to Rand as a contemporary "object-oriented" philosopher, and includes Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology in the bibliography.

I have no information as to how big of a role ITOE played in the development of Object Oriented, but having read the book, I would not at all be surprised if it played a rather large part. It essentially describes the mechanics of human concept-formation and how they reflect the real relationship between entities, attributes, and measurement. It lends itself very naturally to a computer-science approach.

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Reidy and merjet, thanks for your replies. I know she was in her final years when home computers were still only on the cusp of becoming a thing. I was just hoping there might be some "nuggets" somewhere in the 1975  - 1982 interval on her thoughts on the technology, and the possibilities that it held.

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@itsjames, the Ayn Rand Institute has an audio lecture course you can buy called "Charles Babbage and Induction in Computer Science" by Martin F. Johansen. It is Johansen's work rather than Rand's, but Johansen is influenced by Objectivism, and the course is very relevant to your interest in the history of computers.

Very cool thread!

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