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I'm reading Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, and a quote from Alan Perlis really confuses me:

What's in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, that you can make it more.

The context can be found here. I wonder what does the clause "that you can make it more" mean. This clause seems odd to me.


Note: I've found another sentence written by Alan Perlis:

  1. It is possible that software is not like anything else, that it is meant to be discarded: that the whole point is to always see it as soap bubble?

This quote comes from his Epigrams on Programming. I suppose the "..., that ..." structure in both sentence have similar meaning, for they are written by one author.

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    It's pretty clumsy, but I think you are meant to see the that clause as a complement of see. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 25 '16 at 17:05
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The meaning is that when one first see's a machine one notices the size, structure, color, weight of the machine, not what it does.

Only when using a machine, can one realise what the machine is capable of doing, and in order for that to happen, the operator of the machine must have some talent.

In your example, the "machine" being talked about is a computer and the author is saying that he hopes the programmer of the computer will have enough talent to make the computer do wonderful things. He does this figuratively by hoping the reader's "hands" have intelligence since the main interface between man and computer is a keyboard, in a similar way that a pianists "hands" make the piano do wonderful things.

  • I would add that I think an aspect of vision is also included in the "more" part of the phrase. Considering your piano example - not just being able to make music from the piano by playing someone else's composition, but being able to make novel music. For a machine (or a computer specifically), it would be the ability to come to the computer and create something novel by using the potential of the machine in combination with your own intelligence. – mathewb Nov 14 '17 at 23:07
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The word "that" either refers back to what came before, as in the first quote, which can be written more verbosely:

What's in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, so that you can make it more than it was when you were first led up to it.

Or it can be used to replace a conjunction or for redundancy, as in the second, which can be written more simply:

It is possible that software is not like anything else because it is meant to be discarded, and the whole point is to always see it as soap bubble?

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