Le brand, c’est moi

Leonardo Da Vinci, hacker

There’s a cool piece in today’s Wired News about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci. To quote:

Leonardo used the phrase senza lettere to describe himself. It means “without letters,” someone who is unable to read. But it also suggests someone who is an outsider.

… Leonardo described himself as “unlettered” because he was unable to read Latin, the language used by other Renaissance intellectuals. Leonardo figured things out by looking at them, thinking about them and taking them apart.

That compulsion to tinker has led many modern hackers to claim Leonardo retroactively as one of their own.

“What accounts for da Vinci’s supreme mastery of the human form is that he knew how to dissect it, literally. And that is instructive to hackers,” said Oxblood Ruffin, a member of hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow.

“There’s a sort of reciprocity factor in computing that suggests the deeper you can go into the machine, into the networks, the higher you can go into technical discovery,” said Ruffin. “That’s what I get from looking at da Vinci’s work. He was a hacker, no doubt.”

Even more, Da Vinci created the world’s first analog computer — and used it guide a robot. Back in October, I wrote in my blog about a robot expert who did a pile of research into Da Vinci and uncovered descriptions of a three-wheeled animatron — modelled, mind-blowingly, on descriptions of Hephaistos’ robot guards in The Iliad!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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