Monday, Sep. 08, 2008

A Different Kind of Cookie Monster

In 1970, unsuspecting MIT students working on a computer in one of the dorms had their work interrupted by the word "cookie" flashing across the screen. Unless the user responded right away, the flashing would speed up: "Cookie, cookie, give me a cookie." After a few minutes — presumably as the student was panicking that his or her work would be lost forever — the peculiar program (patterned not after the character from Sesame Street, which was barely on air at the time, but after a cartoon "cookie bear" featured in a ubiquitous cereal commercial of the late 1960s) would flash the message, "I didn't want a cookie anyway," and disappear. Prior to that point, the only way to stop the onslaught was to type "cookie," at which point the computer would flash "thank you" and desist. Some computer experts speculate that MIT's "Cookie Monster" program, created by a few students during a school vacation, was the world's first computer virus.