Judith Rich Harris: 1938 - 2018


It was in the 1990s that I received a phone call from Steven Pinker who wanted to make the world aware of the work of Judith Rich Harris, an unheralded psychologist who was advocating a revolutionary idea which she discussed in her 1999 Edge interview, “Children don't do things half way: children don’t compromise,” in which she said “How the parents rear the child has no long-term effects on the child's personality, intelligence, or mental health.”  

From the very early days of Edge, Judith Rich Harris was the gift that kept giving. Beginning in 1998, with her response to “What Questions Are You Asking Yourself” through “The Last Question” in 2016, she exemplified the role of the Third Culture intellectual: “those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

Her subsequent Edge essays over the years focused on subjects as varied as natural selection, parenting styles, the effect of genes on human behavior, twin studies, the survival of friendship, beauty as truth, among others are evidence of a keen intellect and a fearless thinker determined to advance science-based thinking as well as her own controversial ideas.

In this special 16,000-word edition of Edge, dedicated to the memory of Judith Rich Harris, we take a deep dive into her ideas.


Machines Like Me


I would like to set aside the technological constraints in order to imagine how an embodied artificial consciousness might negotiate the open system of human ethics—not how people think they should behave, but how they do behave. For example, we may think the rule of law is preferable to revenge, but matters get blurred when the cause is just and we love the one who exacts the revenge.

A machine incorporating the best angel of our nature might think otherwise. The ancient dream of a plausible artificial human might be scientifically useless but culturally irresistible. At the very least, the quest so far has taught us just how complex we (and all creatures) are in our simplest actions and modes of being. There’s a semi-religious quality to the hope of creating a being less cognitively flawed than we are.

IAN MCEWAN is a novelist whose works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He is the recipient of the Man Booker Prize for Amsterdam (1998), the National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award, and the Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction for Atonement (2003). His most recent novel is Machines Like Me. Ian McEwan's Edge Bio Page

[ED. NOTE:] As a follow-up to the completion of the book Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI, we are continuing the conversation as the “Possible Minds Project.” The first meeting was at Winvian Farm in Morris, CT (more on this later). Over the next few months we are rolling out the fifteen talks—videos, EdgeCasts, transcripts, beginning with Ian McEwan, whose novel, Machines Like Me, has just been published.

From left: W. Daniel Hillis, Neil Gershenfeld, Frank Wilczek, David Chalmers, Robert Axelrod, Tom Griffiths, Caroline Jones, Peter Galison, Alison Gopnik, John Brockman, George Dyson, Freeman Dyson, Seth Lloyd, Rod Brooks, Stephen Wolfram, Ian McEwan. Project participants in absentia: George M. Church, Daniel Kahneman, Alex "Sandy" Pentland, Venki Ramakrishnan. (Click to expand photo)


IAN MCEWAN: I feel something like an imposter here amongst so much technical expertise. I’m the breakfast equivalent of an after-dinner mint.

What’s been preoccupying me the last two or three years is what it would be like to live with a fully embodied artificial consciousness, which means leaping over every difficulty that we’ve heard described this morning by Rod Brooks. The building of such a thing is probably scientifically useless, much like putting a man on the moon when you could put a machine there, but it has an ancient history.

Paul Allen Remembered


Jean Pigozzi & Paul Allen at the Edge Dinner (March 17, 2014)

It was Microsoft’s phenomenal success, early in the evolution of the microcomputer, that made it possible for Paul to make so many other significant contributions to the world, and that success may well have never occurred without Paul’s ability to deliver on the dream to supply the software for all of the microcomputers in the world, beginning with BASIC, and to do so in the early days of the industry. Those at MITS who knew Paul always referred to him as a brilliant polymath and a true gentleman. His quiet, easy going manner, great sense of humor, love of music, guitars, software in all of its forms, compassion and concern for others, together with a totally committed work ethic served as a great role model at MITS.

EDDIE CURRIE is an Associate Professor in Hofstra’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 1975 to 1978, he was Executive Vice President and General Manager for MITS, the first commercially viable, microcomputer-based personal computer company, where he was involved in the development and manufacture of the Altair and recruitment and supervision of the staff, which included Paul Allen and Bill Gates (founders of Microsoft). Eddie Currie's Edge Bio Page

Reality Club: Jean Pigozzi


In 1974, a small company called MITS, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was struggling to survive as it watched its kit calculator business being destroyed by Texas Instrument’s draconian calculator price-cutting. An Intel salesman dropped off a data sheet for a new microprocessor called the 8080. That evening the president of the company, Ed Roberts, took the data sheet home and, using an HP calculator, concluded that Intel’s newest product was quite capable of becoming the heart of a microcomputer. Roberts went to a local bank and presented a hastily drafted business plan and when asked by a bank officer how many computers could be sold, he responded “800.” The bank assumed that he meant 800/month and granted the loan. In actuality, Roberts meant 800/year.

Eddie Currie

Also in 1974, some two thousand miles away in Boston, two young men were monitoring Intel’s microprocessor evolution and dreaming of building a microcomputer based on a microprocessor. The Intel 8080 was announced in April of 1974, but it wasn’t until December of that year, in Electronic Design magazine, that a full instruction set was published. As soon as Paul Allen and Bill Gates saw the article, work began by both, using Harvard computing resources, that ultimately resulted in an 8080 simulator that ran on a DEC PDP-10 and the creation of a 4K version of the BASIC language that would run on the simulator.

Thus MITS had hardware and no computer language, and Bill and Paul had a computer language but no hardware. The breakthrough came in the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, published in late December of 1974, featuring the “MITS’ Altair, for the world’s first microcomputer kit,” on the cover.

Paul Allen sent a letter to MITS on January 2, 1975, explaining that his company had a BASIC interpreter that could be marketed on paper tape and/or floppy disk and run on the MITS microcomputer. Ed Roberts' response was immediate and resulted in Paul flying to Albuquerque a few days later with a paper tape and successfully demonstrating Microsoft BASIC running on an Altair. Microsoft was founded as Micro-Soft, on April 4, 1975.

I also played a role. Ed Roberts and I had grown up together, attended the same elementary school, junior high and high school, and were best friends. From 1975-78 I worked alongside him at MITS as Executive Vice President and General Manager, which involved supervising the work of Paul and Bill. At one point, I asked Paul and Bill about Microsoft’s ultimate goal. Their response came quickly and succinctly, viz., “… Microsoft wants to supply software for all of the microcomputers in the world…” This unequivocal mission statement was to serve Microsoft well in the years to come. It also resulted in Microsoft staking a claim to what would later become a hotly contested domain. Such a clear vision was surprising not only for its breadth and scope but also because they were 18 and 20, respectively, at the time. While Bill and Paul early on collaborated on software development, overtime Bill’s focus was primarily on business development and Paul’s on software development.

Schirrmacher's Heritage


A book of essays claims the authority to interpret, carries the militant title "Reclaim Autonomy”, and demands self-empowerment.

The questions of how science and technology are transforming life and society are among the greatest intellectual challenges that surprisingly few of today's intellectuals take on. One of the first to do so was FAZ editor Frank Schirrmacher, who died in 2014. So it was not only an gesture of respect, but also an attempt at a programmatic continuation, when the publisher of the weekly Freitag, Jakob Augstein, dedicated a symposium on digital debate to Frank Schirrmacher.

Digerati - Acknowledgements




I am grateful to Judy Herrick, who, for the past year, has presented me with thousands of pages of accurate transcriptions. I also want to thank a number of people at HardWired: Peter Rutten, the publisher, for his time and valuable suggestions; Donna Linden, production director, for her diligence and attentiveness; and Susanna Dulkinys, design director; Jennifer Colton, marketing director; Alex McOsker, marketing coordinator; Leslie Rossman, publicist; and Judith Dunham and Constance Hale, for their careful copy editing.

Thanks to Sarah Taylor at Brockman, Inc. who organized a great number of details in coordinating the final stages of the project.

Finally, special thanks and appreciation to Katinka Matson for her patience and support, and to our son, Max Brockman, who helped instigate the project, went on the road with me, videotaped many of the encounters, and assisted throughout.

Digerati - Copyright



520 Third Street, Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94107

HardWired books are distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West.

© 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America
First Edition 1996
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 1-888869-04-6

Text design by Susanna Dulkinys.
Cover design by John Plunkett.


Subscribe to RSS - Conversations