《The Man Who Solved The Market》中文版翻译连载55
The MAn Who Solved The Market (55)
Robert Mercer’s lifelong passion had been sparked by his father.
A brilliant scientist with a dry wit, Thomas Mercer was born in Victoria, British Columbia, later becoming a world expert on aerosols, the tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere that both contribute to air pollution and cool the EArth by blocking the sun. Thomas spent more than a decade as a professor of rADIation biology and biophysics at the UnIVeRSIty of Rochester before becoming department head of a foundation devoted to curing respiratory disease in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was there that Robert, the eldest of Thomas’s three children, was born in 1946.
His mother, Virginia Mercer, was passionate about the theater and arts, but Robert was riveted by computers. It began the very moment Thomas showed Robert the magnetic drum and punch cards of an IBM 650,one of the earliest mass-produced computers. After Thomas explained the computer’s inner workings to his son, the ten-year-old began creating his own programs, filling up an oversized notebook. Bob carried that notebook around for years before he ever had ACcess to an actual computer.
他的母亲——弗吉尼亚·默瑟，对戏剧和艺术充满激情，但是罗伯特痴迷于计算机。当托马斯向罗伯特展示IBM 650电脑的磁鼓和打孔卡的那一刻，激情被点燃了，而IBM 650是最早的量产计算机之一。托马斯向儿子解释电脑的内在工作原理是怎样的，这个10岁的孩子开始编写自己的程序，写满了一个超大的笔记本。在有机会使用一台真正的电脑之前，鲍勃带着这个笔记本到处跑了好几年。
At Sandia High School and the University of New Mexico, Mercer was a bespectacled, lanky, and low-key member of the school’s chess, auto, and Russian clubs. He came alive for math, though, sharing a pound, handsome simile in a photo appearing in the Albuquerque Journal after he and two classmates won top honors in a national mathematics contest in 1964.
After high school graduation, Mercer spent three weeks at the National Youth Science Camp in the mountains of West Virginia. There, Mercer discovered a single computer, a donated IBM 1620, that could do fifty ten-digit multiplications a second but was neglected by most campers. Apparently, sitting indoors all day in the summer wasn’t as enticing to them as it was to Mercer, so he got to play with the computer as much as he wanted, learning to program in Fortran, a language developed mainly for scientists. That summer, Neil Armstrong paid a visit to the camp, five years prior to becoming the first man to set foot on the moon. He told the campers that astronauts were using the latest computer technology, some of it the size of a match. Mercer sat listening, mouth a gape.
“I couldn’t see how that would even be possible,” he later recalled.
While studying physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the University of New Mexico, Mercer got a job at a weapons laboratory at the Kirkland Air Force base eight miles away, just so he could help program the base’s supercomputer. Much as baseball players appreciate the smell of fresh-cut outfield grass or the site of a well-groomed pitcher’s mound, Mercer came to delight in the sights and smells of Kirtland’s computer lab.
“I loved everything about computers,” Mercer later explained. “I loved the solitude of the computer lab late at night. I loved the air-conditioned smell of the place. I loved the sound of the discs whirring, and the printers clacking.”
It might seem a bit unusual, even odd, for a young man to be so enthralled by a computer laboratory, but, in the mid-1960s, these machines came to represent unexplored terrain and fresh possibility. A subculture developed of young computer specialists, academics and hobbyists who stayed up late into the night colding, or writing instructions so computers could solve problems or execute specified, automated tasks. The instructions were given using algorithms, which entailed a series of logical, step-by-step procedures.
Bright young men and women, the programmers were counterculture rebels, boldly exploring the future, even as their peers chased the fleeting pleasures of the day, forging a spirit and energy that would change the world for decades to come.
“We suffered socially and psychologically for being right,” says Aaron Brown, a member of the emerging coder crew who became a senior executive of the Quant-trading world.
As an inductee into the cult, Mercer spent the summer on the lab’s mainframe computer rewriting a program that calculated electromagnetic fields generated by nuclear fusion bombs. In time, Mercer found ways to make the program one hundred times faster, a real coup. Mercer was energized and enthused, but his bosses didn’t seem to care about his accomplishment. Instead of running the old computations at the new, faster speed, they instructed Mercer to run computations that were one hundred times the size. It seemed Mercer’s revved-up speed made little difference to them, an attitude that helped mold the young man’s worldview.
“I took this as an indication that one of the most important goals of government-financed research is not so much to get answers as it is to consume the computer budget,” Mercer later said.
He turned cynical, viewing government as arrogant and inefficient. Years later, Mercer would embrace the view that individuals need to be self-sufficient and avoid state aid.
The summer experience “left me, ever since, with a jaundiced view of government-financed research,” Mercer explained.
After earning his PhD in computer science at the University of Illinois, Mercer joined IBM in 1972, even though he was dismissive of the quality of the company’s computers. It was a different part of the company that had impressed him. Mercer had agreed to visit the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in the New York City suburb of Yorktown Heights and was struck by hard-charging IBM staffers pushing to discover innovations that could power the company’s future.
Mercer joined the team and began working in the company’s newly formed speech-recognition group. Eventually, he was joined by a young and outgoing mathematician in a hurry to accomplish something big.