The HLF Portraits: Charles William Bachman

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The HLF Portraits: Charles William Bachman
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The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation presents the HLF Portraits: Charles William Bachman; ACM A.M. Turing Award, 1973 Recipients of the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the Abel Prize in discussion with Marc Pachter, Director Emeritus National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, about their lives, their research, their careers and the circumstances that led to the awards. Video interviews produced for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation by the Berlin photographer Peter Badge. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation or any other person or associated institution involved in the making and distribution of the video. Background: The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF) annually organizes the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), which is a networking event for mathematicians and computer scientists from all over the world. The HLFF was established and is funded by the German foundation the Klaus Tschira Stiftung (KTS), which promotes natural sciences, mathematics and computer science. The HLF is strongly supported by the award-granting institutions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM: ACM A.M. Turing Award, ACM Prize in Computing), the International Mathematical Union (IMU: Fields Medal, Nevanlinna Prize), and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA: Abel Prize). The Scientific Partners of the HLFF are the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Heidelberg University.

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[Music] I want to go back to your childhood and tell me the kind of household you grew up in I grew in a very modern house I hold it down good Michael and follow the temporary housing and frankly I'd write in your childhood home really so your parents were very interested in my mother your mother in style yes and was she interested or your father in engineering any of the technical who is a football coach an all-american football player so you probably disappointed him he wanted to my next brother did all that role yes so how here you are in a stylish home with the distinguished coach is your father how do I get you and to a point in your life where you begin to be interested in technology well when they are reversed it was the army that did it I don't want to let you go to the army yet because I want to know if I school if there were any teachers and he ideas around you that was making you think oh this is an interesting way to think or not algebra teacher 12th grade 12th grade and I said hey in this class you can skip the college class oh because he covered himself in earlier really and you were clearly capable of understanding what was going on we're like pretender girl so what do you think you're going to do in life all all kids think they're going to be something when they grow up what did you think if I met you in the 11th grade and said what are you going to be when you grow up what would you have said dinner Oh already already yes I would have been go back again say when did the idea of being an engineer come was it from an uncle was it from a book you read how did you know that this might be an interesting life for you Oh petroleum engineer okay and in fact there was a president of the American Petroleum Institute and so he would let you know what the life was like says made and that was for you so it turned out that because you're the generation of World War two that the bad news in your life is that maybe you can't go directly to college from high school you have to go
to the army or did you have a chance to go first to college one year in college oh I think I dropped out of high school and with the College of your earlier oh so somebody knew you were talented yes and so you get a year of college that's right and then you're drafted although I volunteered oh because I had a diverter deferment yes I went through first year of college and I said I think it's time to go so I got the draft board they said I'm ready to go well did anyone try to talk you out of it no no it was a thing to do now that might have been a profound disruption well it wasn't many young men's lives but to what extent did going into the army actually affect your career positively can you tell me what what happened in the army interesting I when they are made they sent me today any aircraft school or basic training and I got my first exposure to computers their fire control computers really which I was very much interested in and of course a smaller fire control computer then was three feet by three feet by three feet form it on the corners of this thing and a little bit long lowered a stick and they could pick it out good go out across the field and put in the back of a truck or take it out of a truck and so that I got my first computer and some of the ideas that what came out of that well I got back to General Electric ten years later thing is they know I know what that's problem answer really well you you you pose it very interestingly because I would think that the first sign of a very good engineer and eventually computer hero if I may call you is to be interested in the problem so there you are you're one eighteen nineteen when you're first hey times nineteen when I went in the army okay and soon after you were involved with the the computer this large computer and what was the problem that was going through your mind as you tried to think about it well the problem I had this is that thing computer we had what's being used on a batch basis you got a order from somebody in this case is a I don't want standard a basis of excuse me basis for taking Mitchell plan for this computer right to sell and then but the problem is that things changed we were using a computer in a batch mode so we didn't have been to make a plan to change a plan and so I said what we need to do is have the kind of thing that we did in any aircraft trouble it's writing down Japanese airplanes right because they wouldn't fly straight which is very uncooperative that's right so wait tough guns at them and then and so I was aware at that time on the airborne computers put the missiles right and so they could redirect this thing I see you and now they're you're I will get just oh sorry and because our missiles can fly twice as fast yes as the bombs we were able to catch up with a plane and it turned out the Japanese quickly learn but it's the other dodged too we couldn't get them either right so it was a I can hit you but you can't hit me or we don't like that do you either was a battle of wits really points really the whole whole period of time between we reward - and we're gonna on range of missiles what's the matter began to redirect the miss Turner which is still an ongoing challenge and right because it's technology meeting technology know who's gonna be in the next step the first one to get there to get there how much are you at this point you're a young clever man you have because the world has gone crazy an opportunity to connect with a computer very early are you deciding then you probably already knew you wanted to be an engineer but are you becoming particularly intrigued by the computer and its future well I started with General Electric and Dow Chemical Company and actually go for real computer there was a bunch of carneiro and so we could learn to solve problems with much cards for magnetic tape so I'm a pretty computer guy which car guy Oh turns out would take us two days to solving a set of problems but there was what we had things aren't move slower than 19 right 50 so let's let's keep you in college at the moment and your decision are you responding to great professors are you the guy in the back room tinkering while they're talking about something else what's your social intellectual situation well question I get my PhD well I didn't get a month I got my bachelor's degree from Michigan State College right and I want to go I got the advanced degree in thermodynamics thermodynamics oh I don't know I knew what Thoreau darhk's was what's Rice's and I went to the University of Pennsylvania right and discovered after I got there that actually the graduate program and thermodynamics was a program night school with local industry by guys so what am I gonna do and a friend I bet there said well why don't you go to the warden school the daytime really and I
could master's degree I draw and business systems and I can get a masters degree in thermodynamics and when I graduated I got a job with Dow Chemical Company and Aaron Brooks it was like one of the Chief Engineers at dr. Michael OH I said I got a problem for you here I've got a 12 inch diameter well we're gonna install a new pipeline and the plant and should I buy the one that which is the more expensive or the cheaper one system by what you decide those things that was your response my so in fact what had what to trust you like company called ger stacker and said I need your help how much did you want to get the company won't get paid for this he says well the Board of Directors back to those decisions it's good I'm sorry mr. Gore's tracker with engineers make those decisions every day and you're not around at Illinois they just do it a little presumptuous of you well no I'm just kidding but I mean it sounds like you're seeing a problem you're getting you're respectful but you're pretty young and somebody who's supposed to know more than you but is telling you and you're saying no mr. Kirschner was pretty young oh okay okay so two young men both clever but you're the one thinking of the next the next step right so the system that they use for some 10-15 years afterward with base of the wet jacquard system I set up for them to make decisions smart decisions because then the kind of calculation is all lined up and we just sit on them so I'm I want to know where you are you're still young you're you're sensing the problems that need to be solved you're going to interesting meetings because you see that they're interesting but who is not getting it at some point for example in the data context is is everyone saying right charlie or are they not listening to you sometimes oh not missing a lot listening at all if we're listening at all except for a colleague or a stalker who it was the treasurer of the company and we're using his punch card systems to calculate return on an investment so this is a my first experience just kind of vengeful I'm actually very interested in the community of computer thinking right so you're saying that people were eager to share it was not everybody was not hiding their their insights their information it was sort of problem-solving together yes do you think and every week they would publish I suppose share notes they could all about all the movers and so on every week on Emma a new manual to read yes reflected what people that do I really learned that one quick I'm aware but not really informed about the whole question of proprietary knowledge in commercial context so I make completely misunderstand it but you're surprising me in the freeness of the flow of information was that always true did it continue to be true throughout your career or was this a moment when of such newness that people were more inclined to share well they were desperately needed help and ideas and so that and there was no there was no brothers no prior experience of people you using free software so they just very good thing a little my ideas and I just tag on it you remember that no did you develop a particular friendship intellectual or otherwise as a result of meeting these people oh yes a couple of people look like Russ McGee oh is what General Electric her early user of an IBM 702 and told Russ last week just always doing these a couple years younger than I am a kid really yes so you friendships develop intellectual friendships as well as elicit both a personal and intellectual French yes now when you would go back to your company from these meetings were they eager to hear what you would learn to support what you next wanted to do no it was kind of floating out in a bubble and turned out that there was a group in New York working rude General Electric that we're trying to get organized to do I do generally generic the right word is my generic custom floor you're seeing manufacturing control and so I was hired but she eat away from Dow Chemical and I left that way cuz I wasn't going anywhere ah so that wasn't getting it and they weren't going anywhere okay and what were you offered as working conditions and to pursue your ideas what were they what were they interested that you could bring it to them I've never really had a job position title but later on it's not really what I am I'm the chief architect this project because I was thinking in the front of the head yes and solo people join the project from different parts of jiggy took their lead from a right and that's what became the first database management system remarkable GE was a particularly forward-looking company at this point yes again in the corporate culture did you feel that was their leadership at the top saying find me the
smart people tell me what they need and let them do it right let's go ahead and actually work for three years on the project with not saying they're not going anywhere coming out of it they did go to it which is probably not so usual in business life I mean they want something immediately and actually American culture gets too something immediately but they had the foresight to say resources smart people let's see where it goes well it was the computer was no the people were new though there were all the places and GE you earlier GE what was yours using computers themselves put it a vegetable horror processing away our cases are what did do something new we wanted to do order processing orders and be able to like to change in fact we were one of the groups we were trying to sell our product to to graduate I said Toula that we were using this group that was they were the people who are doing they World War two operations research and I said well we were doing this operations research they said you do not you an operations research we do operations research but we didn't up why not so I said we set up a schedule and if it then to work we just write on it again so we could go further ahead and I got successful well so there's a relatively three-year investment and searching for the answers to the problems you impose was there a Eureka moment in that process where you said okay I think we're almost there well the operations of research people you should be calculating a ideal solution nice example that that's nice but we'd be satisfied with a feasible solution so that it's the solution that's good enough think it worked the next 24 hours on it right and then look at what we've gotten try that out so we were not looking for a perfect result we're looking for a feasible result the right and that's what they gave the first database management system in the world which turned out to be pretty feasible yes it did well over the worked it worked it worked what did it do I mean you're talking to an on computer specialist tell me the joy of what it could now do that couldn't happen before what we could do we could calculate us a solution to the manufacturing control problem and recognize that even though we had a good solution it was perfect because something could go wrong in the shop and then they would go back and redo it again well we could just redo it again - so we would go back and recalculate the answers sort of loose on the shop to build that part and adjusted to fix it and we asked who did that later what they were playing so we could get something out that was useful and that they will be sold solution then we could fly with right now again in the process of innovation I'm interested in whether someone who has solves a problem feasibly that he had set out to do things okay we're there we're kind of where we need to be or does the new restlessness set in you know a new sort of okay we solve that now what don't we know were you in that mode world where we're living in yes is one where the computer itself was every two to three years what's gonna close as fast twice as big in a sense you could say oh well bigger problem ah so we could run the same problems over again it knowing that they could get a better solution at the better time yes and let the factory move more quickly to nobody feels a little better than feasible one yes so no should do a problem I'm interested in some of the legal implications of the new ideas that you're working on and coming where there are problems within industry in between computers and then there are problems in terms of ownership of ideas how does that work how does patent law work within the context of what you were what you are doing the patent departments and you cannot patent admissions software really so we were stuck on that and find it Supreme Court it took a case and they both they go to do permit some were to be admitted and they had to GE cases oh excuse me by then Honeywell had taken over GE all that so they said well we could do this that they pick the other guy another associate of mine who is doing something else in software so it's a second it's not we're invention this is life-changing for the progressive right the industry and open them one doesn't think about the legal framework in which these things happen so so much progress I'm guessing from what you're saying would not have proceeded have this law not been changed I'm also interested in when you reach a certain place in life very often it becomes very important to connect with young people who are the next generation and the generation after that do you ever have opportunities there are things like the Heidelberg law reform do you enjoy that and you think something happens when somebody who has achieved so much encounters the young oh yes well I went to Heidelberg Oh mark here what did you think you were getting into I