Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why I love the ‘leave-me-alone’ box

We humans are programmed by nature:

IF (the telephone rings) OR (an e-mail arrives) OR (a text message pops up)

{Somebody wants to catch the attention of your universe}

THEN you behave like Pavlov’s dog

{In the Digital Age we have all become Pavlovian information dogs}


But then your conscious you interrupts your unconscious you and you think: “leave me alone”.

Do you know that this feeling has been materialized in the brilliantly simple ‘leave-me-alone’ box?

Machines are built to perform useful tasks. Not so for the ‘leave-me-alone’ box. All it does when you switch it on…is to switch itself off. And it does this in a beautiful mechanical way: a small hammer pushes the switch back to the off-mode. Here you can see it at work:

When the first computers were just being born − in the 1950’s − artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky came up with the idea for this box. In 1952 he wanted to call it the ‘The ultimate machine’. 'Ultimate', because it’s the simplest ‘digital’ machine that does something, but what is does is also the simplest thing: namely to turn itself off.

Additional beauty: the ‘digital’ machine does this in a mechanical (so analog) way.

As we humans love to anthropomorphize our machines, somebody named it the ‘leave-me-alone’ box. The rest is history. YouTube-views of only the previous video reaches over ten million. Geeks love the ‘leave-me-alone’ box.

Over the decades people have built their own versions of the ‘leave-me-alone’ box. Here you can find ten bizarre useless machine. And this is a great one built with LEGO:

But nothing beats the most naked version of the ‘leave-me-alone’ box:

0 stays 0. Forever.

Turn the machine to state 1 (ON), and 1 turns into 0 (OFF) right away: “leave me alone”. A digital universe with 0 as the only stable state of mind.

No machine can be more Zen than the ‘leave-me-alone’ box.