Geek Trivia: Which Computer Technology Derives Its Name From Greek Mythology?

18th century, wood sculpture of demons
Public domain

Answer: the demons

In computing, a daemon is a background process that manages tasks without direct user intervention. Print daemons group documents to print, HTTP daemons return data to the querying web browser, task scheduling daemons trigger tasks when the clock triggers them, and so on.

These demons derive their name, in a roundabout way, from Greek mythology. During the 1960s, programmers working on the MAC (Mathematics and Calculus) project of the MIT Computer and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory were looking for a suitable name for the background processes that were going on. They created and performed functions without the intervention of the user.

They decided to call the basic processes "demons" after Maxwell's demon – an imaginary imaginary derived from James Clerk's nineteenth-century James Clerk's thought experiment, which was responsible for sorting molecules into the theoretical chamber of Maxwell. Maxwell had, in turn, described his small assistant as an assistant devil's thought as a nod to the demons of Greek mythology – supernatural beings (assistants) who performed tasks for the gods.

Although the spelling has gone from the demon to the more traditional devil over the years, the term has remained. Just as Greek demons have contributed to the discrete execution of tasks, modern computer daemons perpetuate the tradition of silent and invisible assistance.

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