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But BASIC as it came to be was profoundly influenced by the fact that it was created at a liberal arts college with a forward-thinking mathematics program.Dartmouth became that place largely because of the vision of its math department chairman, John Kemeny.It’s led to educational initiatives as effortless sounding as the Hour of Code (offered by Code.org) and as obviously ambitious as Code Year (spearheaded by Codecademy). Last December, he issued a You Tube video in which he urged young people to take up programming, declaring that “learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future.” I find the “everybody should learn to code” movement laudable.And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy.
“Our vision was that every student on campus should have access to a computer, and any faculty member should be able to use a computer in the classroom whenever appropriate,” he said in a 1991 video interview.
But thinking of its invention as a major moment only in the history of computer languages dramatically understates its significance.
In the mid-1960s, using a computer was generally like playing chess by mail: You used a keypunch to enter a program on cards, turned them over to a trained operator and then waited for a printout of the results, which might not arrive until the next day.
BASIC and the platform it ran on, the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, both sped up the process and demystified it.
You told the computer to do something by typing words and math statements, and it did it, right away.