Culture Magazine

Small World Connections, a Few – From Britain to the New World

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
I was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins from the fall of 1965 through the spring of 1969. During that same time David Hays, who would become my teacher at SUNY Buffalo starting in 1974, would have been finishing up at RAND, where he’d led the effort on machine translation, aka computational linguistics. Hays became founding chair of the Linguistics Department at Buffalo in 1969.
Anyhow, in my senior year at Hopkins I took a course in decision theory. The course was taught by a professor visiting from Britain (Cambridge), R. B. Braithwaite. He was a distinguished man and a character. Talked with a stutter and liked to serve sherry in his office hours; thought it was civilized. Braithwaite was married to Margaret Masterman, who’d done pioneering work in machine translation. One of her students was a man named Martin Kay. Hays had brought Kay to RAND in 1961.
By the time I’d gone to Buffalo, Kay had gone to Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center, legendary in the computer biz for various things, including the GUI interface, which Steve Jobs put on the Mac). By that time Hays had become the editor of the American Journal of Computational Linguistics (AJCL), which was published on microfiche. The pages for AJCH were electronically typeset by Martin Kay using a Xerox laser printer to which he had access at PARC.
Somewhere in there Hays had a brainstorm about consciousness which was of a rather technical nature. He put it into a letter which he sent to Masterman – a name I recognized from a now-classic piece she'd written about Thomas Kuhn's concept of a paradigm. I never saw the letter; don’t know whether or not Masterman ever replied. But I do remember Hays talking about this insight, standing there in the library at Twin Willows – his house on a hectare of ground on the shore of Lake Erie. His tone was hushed.
At the time I didn't know that Masterman was married to Braithwaite. And it is only just now that I put these personal connections together.
As those wholesome Disney kids sing, it’s a small world after all.

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