Chapter 6. Winners and Losers

By 1966, when David Silver took his first elevator ride to the ninth floor of Tech Square, the AI lab was a showcase community, working under the hallowed precepts of the Hacker Ethic. After a big Chinese dinner, the hackers would go at it until dawn, congregating around the PDP-6 to do what was most important in the world to them. They would waddle back and forth with their printouts and their manuals, kibitzing around whoever was using the terminal at that time, appreciating the flair with which the programmer wrote his code. Obviously, the key to the lab was cooperation and a joint belief in the mission of hacking. These people were passionately involved in technology, and as soon as he saw them, David Silver wanted to spend all his time there.

David Silver was fourteen years old. He was in the sixth grade, having been left back twice. He could hardly read. His classmates often taunted him. Later, people would reflect that his problem had been dyslexia; Silver would simply say that he “wasn’t interested” in the teachers, the students, or anything that went on in school. He was interested in building systems.

From the time he was six or so, he had been going regularly to Eli Heffron’s junkyard in Cambridge (where TMRC hackers also scavenged) and recovering all sorts of fascinating things. Once, when he was around ten, he came back with a radar dish, tore it apart, and rebuilt it so that it could pick up sounds—he rigged it as a parabolic reflector, ...

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