The HLF Portraits: Ivan Sutherland

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The HLF Portraits: Ivan Sutherland
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The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation presents the HLF Portraits: Ivan Sutherland; ACM A.M. Turing Award, 1988 Recipients of the the Abel Prize, the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the ACM Prize in Computing, the Fields Medal and the Nevanlinna 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.
Rifling Multiplication sign Hidden Markov model Volume (thermodynamics) Musical ensemble Family Number
Building Code Multiplication sign Direction (geometry) Range (statistics) Set (mathematics) Coma Berenices Information technology consulting Web 2.0 Mathematics Bus (computing) Cuboid Series (mathematics) Endliche Modelltheorie Block (periodic table) Moment (mathematics) Hand fan Type theory Digital photography Wave Process (computing) Auditory masking Computer science Quicksort Identical particles Resultant Service (economics) Civil engineering Hidden Markov model Event horizon Hypothesis Wave packet Number Frequency Mixture model Centralizer and normalizer Aeroelasticity Causality Bridging (networking) Operator (mathematics) Metropolitan area network Software development kit Multiplication Key (cryptography) Neighbourhood (graph theory) Planning Vector potential Word Elementary arithmetic Spring (hydrology) Personal digital assistant Network topology Video game Family
Discrete group State of matter Direction (geometry) Multiplication sign Source code Sheaf (mathematics) Function (mathematics) Disk read-and-write head Semantics (computer science) Computer programming Junction (traffic) Neuroinformatik Fraction (mathematics) Semiconductor memory Different (Kate Ryan album) Oval Office suite Social class Injektivität Software developer Gradient Data storage device Physicalism Sound effect Bit Lattice (order) 10 (number) Degree (graph theory) Type theory Category of being Numeral (linguistics) Telecommunication Order (biology) Computer science output Right angle Metre Point (geometry) Ferritkern Divisor Tape drive Virtual machine Tube (container) Online help Student's t-test Portable communications device Number Power (physics) Hypothesis Product (business) Punched tape Centralizer and normalizer Goodness of fit Operator (mathematics) Metropolitan area network Condition number Scaling (geometry) Inheritance (object-oriented programming) Forcing (mathematics) Physical law Basis <Mathematik> Division (mathematics) Multilateration Faculty (division) Transmitter Word Personal computer Doubling the cube Personal digital assistant Universe (mathematics) Charge carrier Video game Transmissionskoeffizient Family
Axiom of choice Decision theory Multiplication sign Device driver Branch (computer science) Student's t-test Mereology Field (computer science) Computer programming Hypothesis Neuroinformatik Goodness of fit Term (mathematics) Energy level God Form (programming) Arm Nim-Spiel Moment (mathematics) Feedback Connected space Degree (graph theory) Magnetic-core memory Arithmetic mean Process (computing) Personal digital assistant MiniDisc Right angle Quicksort Table (information) Family Resultant
Group action Code Direction (geometry) Multiplication sign System administrator Source code Design by contract Set (mathematics) Water vapor Mereology Computer programming Neuroinformatik Web 2.0 Impulse response Different (Kate Ryan album) Conservation law Information security Covering space Arm Channel capacity Gradient Keyboard shortcut Moment (mathematics) Computer Degree (graph theory) Data mining Arithmetic mean Process (computing) Order (biology) Computer science output Right angle Quicksort Reading (process) Resultant Point (geometry) Perfect group Service (economics) Virtual machine Device driver Student's t-test Heat transfer Rule of inference Field (computer science) Number Power (physics) Hypothesis Wave packet Goodness of fit Term (mathematics) Theorem Software testing Metropolitan area network Capability Maturity Model Task (computing) Projective plane Line (geometry) Cartesian coordinate system Magnetic-core memory Word Personal computer Elementary arithmetic Kernel (computing) Commitment scheme Personal digital assistant Universe (mathematics) Video game Object (grammar) Table (information)
Pulse (signal processing) Context awareness Beat (acoustics) Digital electronics State of matter Multiplication sign Decision theory Virtual machine Design by contract Parallel computing Disk read-and-write head Mereology Computer programming Field (computer science) Neuroinformatik 2 (number) Frequency Medical imaging Mathematics Different (Kate Ryan album) Synchronization Office suite Physical system Boss Corporation Programming paradigm Focus (optics) Information Software developer Moment (mathematics) Basis <Mathematik> Exergie Process (computing) Internet forum Order (biology) Video game Right angle Virtual reality Arithmetic progression Spacetime
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[Music] let's start at the very beginning which is to say even before you what was your family composed of at the time you arrived my father was a New Zealand New Zealand my mother was born in Perth in Scotland in 1901 and if you do the numbers you will be aware that when she was a teenager World War one struck and the British Isles sent the cream of its male youth to World War one and a relatively few of them came home yes sadly there was hardly anyone for her to marry her older sister never did marry she spent a summer in Grenoble and there she met a New Zealander who had been carrying a rifle during World War one and had been discharged at the end of the war in Europe so he could get his education oh and she glommed onto him so fast you wouldn't believe it yeah three years later they were married in Melbourne Australia and I'm glad they met in Grenoble I owe big debt to Grenoble I do you do they I know they stayed in the same boarding house I do not know when our war went on in the boarding house I was not present but you can guess but what you speculate yes and but then I've quizzed them about it yes yes they both became quite silent so I wouldn't be surprised to some things that speaks volumes but here's the peculiarity you were not born in Grenoble you were not born in Melbourne you were born in Nebraska how did that happen well the depression happened and there was no work and so they agreed that they were married in I don't know 1935-36 Amelia they agreed that they would take the next work that was available and it was in Christmas Island south of Singapore hmm they had a daughter at the time who died quite young hmm and they went back to Britain and then father got the opportunity emigrate to the United States he was a builder of dams he loved the mountains who's from New Zealand or are they fabulous mountains and he loved engineering so he wanted to do
engineering in the mountains what better career than building dams but he argued in New Zealand during his career there might be one or two built he would have little chance to participate so he emigrated to the United States and his life work was taming the Snake River aah he built a series of dams along with taking Snake River for the Idaho Power Company they're all still there so for purposes of our interview when the major event happened and you were born you mentioned a really sister who died were there any other children in the family are you the eldest or the younger of two brothers young or two brothers my older brothers two years older there's a photograph of me a family heirloom which shows him with his toy bus and me and a bassinet now the reason they were in Hastings Nebraska yes is the Kingsley dam the Kingsley dam was being built on the Missouri River at that time and my father had some role in the engineering of that and that's why they were in Hastings Nebraska so that was brief I mean you didn't then grow up and then almost got it all yes shortly thereafter they moved to New York or my father became a engineering consultant at the Tabasco services company in downtown lab the old phrase the Acorn or I think it's the a cord doesn't fall far from the tree something doesn't fall far from the tree you then have engineering in your family background as you're growing up absolutely is it my father was a PhD from London and civil engineering and civil I have a copy of his thesis really in what sense and let's keep you at the moment in the range of up to about 10 or 11 in the family growing up is are you being encouraged in any particular direction in the family or is it by osmosis that the the interests of your father in the end become close to your interests my mother was an educator she was interested in the education of her children okay whatever it took so I take an aside and tell you a story about yes because it's typical of my mother we lived in Scarsdale New York 20 miles north of New York City my father commuted every day on the New York Central Railroad into the Manhattan left the house at 7 o'clock in the morning returned at 7 o'clock at night poor man I don't know how I put up with it my brother and I were trying to become ham radio operators and to do that we had to learn the Morse code so we had a key to key up Morse code and we had a buzzer on that and we would practice sending Morse code to each other that key was sat in the front hall of the house and the mailman came in one day and said need to collect postage on this letter that was insufficiently stamped and he started keying on this key faster than we had ever heard Morse code sent he he said are you boys trying to learn Morse code we said yes said I'll teach you his name was Ted I dunno I never knew his last name it was Ted he had been a military radio operator in the Pacific Theater during World War two he had sent masks Morse code all day we served Morse code all day that was his job he was very good at it so every day there was summer so we were home from school every day about 11 o'clock Ted would come to the front door and he would come in give us a half hour lesson in the Morse code and then he would go on about his rooms it was years later that I figured out what this did to my mother's reputation in the neighborhood and my mother surely had figured that out long before it starts huh and she just didn't give a damn her boys education was far more important than her reputation that neighborhood extraordinary and that is typical of my brother huh is she pushing you in any way is she just trying to find out who has just encouraging encourage very encouraging I I never felt pushed I felt encouraged at this time in school and let's make you seven at the moment are you you're in a local of public elementary so yes I went to the I went to the Edgewood elementary school was six blocks from home I used to ride my bicycle in everyday and ride
bicycle home and again it's still a young life but are you finding certain interests that you're being drawn to are you well we know you're playing around with Morse code and things like that but are you are you feeling yourself drawn to certain subjects rather than others it's still elementary school but well there were two things that happen to me one is I remember my mother explaining to me the English words for arithmetic / is the English word for / miles per hour is miles divided by hours of is the English word for multiplication one-half of five is two-and-a-half you multiply that five by one-half and you get two and a half and if you think about mathematics using the English words it all becomes very easy that's one thing that occurred the other thing that occurred to me was I like to put together blocks I'd like to put together tinker toys that kind of stomach and I inherited from my mother's uncle a set of Richter's blocks now Richter worked in what's now East Germany and he invented the idea of you have a kit of blocks and then there's a supplement that you can buy which gives you enough blocks to be the next larger kit on the Richter blocks had splendidly drawn detailed plans for things you could build and I remember time and again being given a box of blocks and the plans would come out we'd look at the plans and I learned how to read those drawings so that I could assemble the things that we're asked for in the drawer mmm not quite an early age yes and over the years the number of Richter blocks that I had increased considerably and I now have two boxes of Richter blocks each of which I can barely lift these would these the original that you had as a pile you've been original you bet and they are they are supposedly made of stone I found out much later that they're actually made of a composition which is made of talcum powder and linseed oil and some dyes which are then compressed and then cured in the linseed oil polymerizes and makes a sort of false stone looking thing and they're made extremely precisely now that's chapter one chapter two is I was traveling in Amsterdam many years later I found a box of these Rika blocks for sale so naturally I bought it of course I bought it and I found that they were being remanufactured in in a place quite near Dresden and so I went to visit the manufacturers and said I have a set of these and I see that your remanufacture you know they had set up a company to make richer blocks again and they had hydraulic presses that would squeeze the mixture together and very accurate dyes that they made them in and so on so I learned how they were made and I offered to make an investment in the company well the owners of the company thought it was worth far more than I was willing to pay therefore our partial interest in the company and I explained to them various things that we could do you know we could have a warrants so that if it turned out they weren't as profitable as they planned to be we could add that later date then do the evaluation and make it all fair but this is East Germany shortly after East Germany was liberated and the idea of warrants was outside the scope of anything that the people there could not culturally in comprehensive it and so we agreed alone so I gave them a loan if I recall fifty thousand yes something like that with German precision every month I got a payment on the loan at the end of the five year period I got the exact amount back that was was owed was amazing yeah but stock equity not something they like now one of the things I that is very interesting at least to me and these interviews is to note the times that a young person who becomes a distinguished computer science in your case is noticed and there's a time you told me about when you were ten when you were noticed as a potential bridge engineer can you tell me what happened then sure so my father was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers a civil engineer selling it and there was a talk being given it the big I think it's a building that's shared by many of the professional societies there's talk they are going to be human by GB simon gb Steinman was a great bridge designer and one of the things he designed the very long bridge yet that's it at the top of Lake Michigan hmm and and so my father said I'm going to go and would you like to come of course I'd like to come it was a train ride into New York City we went to the engineering building we went to this talk and I remember the talk quite distinctly he was talking about galloping gertie which is from a place in talk the coma narrows up near Seattle and there was a famous suspension bridge there which started moving it was nicknamed galloping gertie and there are wonderful movies of it you can see on the web it wiggled and went up and down and waves run across that people could still drive across it while I was moving and the question was why did this happen and this was a talk by GB Simon about the cause of galloping Gerdes galloping right and the reason was that when the wind blew across the bridge the bridge behaved like a ribbon fluttering in the wind and that caused it to do these waves and then after a while it started doing a more complicated motion like this and people were very worried that it would collapse and indeed it did collapse one of the big bridge disasters of all time and this was a talk about why that happened right and I remember quite distinctly he had a model piece of the bridge it was about that long and about equally wide and he had it hung on Springs which he said were calculated to be represent the flexibility of the rest of the bridge then he took an ordinary fan and blew a fan at it and sure enough it did its thing and he said it could have been saved if they had taken some heavy trucks and put them on the windward side which he demonstrated by putting some metal blocks on the windward side and sure enough it stayed steady doubt if they were on the windward side then the rest of the bridge would tend to trail behind them and it would have been stable but can you imagine being asked to drive your big truck onto the windward side of a moving bridge I don't think so so so the young man was not bored so if it's a hero horse daughter of course not so afterwards I went up to PT but asked him some question I don't remember well yeah I was and as a result as a result he sent me a letter which is hanging on my wall now it's a prized possession and he said you'll probably be a great bridge engineer at some type of your life sorry I don't design bridges but
it's clear it's clear that engineer was in my in my future right now let's go to your future but not so far into your future I want to get you into high school is that a good time to track another stage of your development and find time okay what's happening in high school what kind of high school again well it was Scarsdale high Scarsdale high and in the in the tender trap who was the star of the tenor trap Debbie Reynolds I think said we're going to move to Scarsdale because everybody knows it has the finest High School in the country that's where I went to high school thank you very much I learned two useful things in high school one was how to type and this is a skill which has stood me in good stead the rest of my life the other one was how to run a 16 millimeter movie projector a scale which is now totally unnecessary to anybody by the way I have the same experience I was the only man in the typing class in high school and it had the same effect on my life so we have that in common if somebody noticing you you have a good teacher who is encouraging you in any direction or are you mostly self-motivated and directed at this no well I like I like the science classes and I I went through the science classes in short order when I was in tenth grade no when I was in ninth grade I had the opportunity Noah 10th grade I had the opportunity to sit in the physics class which was a senior class at the same time that my older brother did so my older brother and I both took the physics class from the same teacher at the same time so we could talk about the problems and we were laboratory partners of course in the experiments that we did and saw and his name was mr. Clark and he used to call us the Sutherland brothers the Sutherland brothers do the Sutherland brothers know the answer discretion he was a fine teacher and we learned a lot of physics I remember I remember I remember a lot of things that we learned when we did experiments about heat and electricity and forces and so on it was a good class in the sense that the laboratory was really quite instructive of course if we had any real questions about it we could go home and ask my father right exactly so there was a source of any help that we needed at home and we were both having amateur radio operators so we had a 500 watt amateur transmitter in our basement an antenna put around the house and we used to talk to all kinds of places on the amateur radio one of the things often commented on in the and what I've read about you in preparation for this is that computers come into your life very early or certainly your interest in it can you talk about that meeting when it yo you bet so mother like to go to conferences in various places where they were interesting people and she is a she is a member of the Society for general semantics I was a conference that they held at at forget the name of the boys school in Vermont or something Phillips Exeter Philippa there was a meeting at Phillips Exeter Academy and mother took me to this meeting I went to all the lectures of the listen to the people and there was at that meeting a man by the name of Edmund C Berkeley now Edmund C Berkeley was a very early participant in computing he wrote a book called giant brains which you can look up if you wanted he published a little magazine called computers on automation and he kind of took my brother and me under his wing we used to go down to New York City to see him on a regular basis he had he one of the people that worked for him had built a demonstration computer that used relays it was called Simple Simon and it was about the size of a suitcase it's about that widen about that deep and about four inches they and it had a hundred or so relays which you could see operate and had a paper tape reader which would read a program from the paper tape and then execute the program by using the relays well it was not a very big machine in the sense of computing power it had two bit words that's two to zero bit words and it had memory made of relays and there were only a dozen relays used in his memory so its memory was limited twelve bits it was not a stored-program computer the program was on the paper tape so it was not a story almost incomprehensible now yes it was completely it was completely understandable how it worked everything it did was completely understandable and Berkeley let us take this computer home so I had my own portable personal computer portable personal computer while I was in junior high school this is 1950 mid fifties well the early fifties early fifties okay and I started programming so this computer could add I could add numbers up to three two bits one two three up to other numbers up to three or if you did double precision arithmetic it could add numbers up to fifteen two other numbers up to fifteen to get answers up to thirty and it could subtract they could do logical operations it had a little input/output you would light lights and so on and I thought it would be interesting to make it to right now to do division requires a conditional operation because you have to test whether the you know numerator is bigger or smaller than the denominator and then behave accordingly division requires a conditional operation and at a paper tape program there were no conditionals so the first thing I had to do was to add a wire to Simon so I figured out I could add one wire and provide a single conditional operation which was conditional stock the only conditional I could have so my divide program was about six feet of tape if I remember on the first short section of it tested to see whether the denominator was one and if the denominator was one it's easy you take the numerator you put it out in the output and you stop if that doesn't work you continue on then you test if the denominator is two that's pretty easy to you take the numerator you shift it one place to the left to the right put it out on the lights and you stop dividing by three was the rest of the tape yes another five feet of tapers oh and I'm sorry I forget how I did that but no doubt by cases and stop I don't know what it was but it did work and if you read giant brains you'll find my name mentioned in it as the high school student who made Simon divide ah so I'm gonna call you a prodigy maybe it's too strong a word but it's beginning to sound like it but the prodigy is now in high school and thinking of the next step how do you do get guidance into how
to develop this interest I think I was a product of a home that just had education everywhere in Oklahoma so I mean I was kind of destined to be an engineer right it's there was never a question in my mind as to what my career was gonna be and yet of course this is a time where computer science has it will evolve is in a very early state so you can't computer science hadn't been in had been invented so you couldn't very well in high school say I'm not going to Carnegie Mellon to do computer science what are you saying to yourself or what is your guidance counselor telling you about University well it was clear I go to university I mean it was never right University but so engineering so so we looked at a bunch of universities as people of that age do and Carnegie Tech at the head had a wonderful scholarship program called the westinghouse scholarships very fit this is not the Westinghouse Science Talent Search this is another scholarship solely at Carnegie Tech that was the Westinghouse scholars and I I won one of those and so the finances said Carnegie Tech is the place to go that's why I went to Carnegie Kearney Tech is in Pittsburgh which is one day's drive from New York City right so we set off and I went to Carnegie Tech I got installed in the dormitory and was there for the next four years at some point you have to pick a major oh I saw obviously Electrical Engineering look I was a ham radio operator I knew about radio transmitters I knew about almost a law I know you know I knew the basics of electrical engineering so it's electrical engineering are you required for an undergraduate degree to do a kind of thesis no or no no so but I enjoyed some of the classes more than others please and that's what's largely a matter of who the faculty member that was teaching the classes were it was a one guy wonderful guy called Leo Finzi I didn't know Leo until much later but Finzi was a wonderful he was an Italian and he was just a splendid professor and he taught a course in magnetics and I remember learning about a ferrite core for a magnet which had some peculiar properties namely you could magnetize it it was an oval so you could magnetize it clockwise or counter clockwise or you could magnetize it a little bit and then a little bit more and then a little bit more and a little bit more and so you could use it as a counter and there was a wonderful laboratory where we took these strange magnetic cores and did things with them hands-on to learn what they are and then the best course I had in college the best of them all was taught by a man named Arthur Mills and Arthur Mills was a semiconductor guy and he had built some devices for his senior laboratory and electronics course one of them was a silicon bar which had an ohmic contact on each end so you could run a current down this bar is about centimeter or so long and though there was a rectifying junction just inside of that two of them so you can inject minority carriers at one and pick them up at the other and you could measure the time that it took for them to drift through the bar and it turns out in a semiconductor the carriers move relatively slowly and I remember doing a laboratory class in which we measured that and it made a big impression on me I understood what was going on quite clearly and of course in a second semiconductor the charges are all all positive or all negative so they repel each other so you can insert a little blessed of lesser charge and then watch how its spread out before it got to the other end of the par and then you see a more blurred reception reception of the charge and those laboratory experiments made a big difference in my understanding of what was going on Mills was a really fine professor and une years later I went gave a lecture at Carnegie Mellon yes and he came to my lecture he said no I already said speak good and loud because I've gotten to an age where I tend to fall asleep in lectures it's all right professor Mills it would just be a quid pro quo for my having fallen asleep in yours now you are growing up along with the computer you have parallel live so the Kim is the computer computer science maybe even not yet called that we're at the graduation from college what is the state of computer knowledge roughly I remember when I was in high school going down to the IBM central headquarters in downtown New York City okay and there I saw the super duper IBM computer which used Williams tube storage now the Williams tube was invented by a British guy whose name is William Gordon and it basically stored bits by putting an electronic charge on the face of a cathode ray tube and you could see the spot there and some of the spots were bigger than others and if the electron beam came back and hit that spot I can it could tell whether how much charge was stored on that spot and so these tubes had about 32 spots by 32 spots over the thousand bits on each tube and there was a Bank of a bunch of them to give them a thousand words of storage compare that with the two-bit six words of storage that Simon had this was you know heaven scoop of it Lord yes a thousand words of storage in there you know I forget probably 30 six bits long wow that's amazing but I saw a Williams - being used for real yes while I was still in high school and today there's few people who even know what they are but that's high school it's the end of college now you're deciding on the next step what is known enough so that you can pick or use just set on that career of an electrical engineer and not even thinking no I did I did some computing things I I wrote a paper for the I Triple E for the student paper contest from the I Triple E and and I I got a trophy for that and mills drove me to State College Pennsylvania where the state contest was on I gave a talk and you know stuff like that and that got me a trip to Seattle to the I Triple E convention that next summer but by then I was really getting quite interested in computing okay and I decided to go to Caltech from graduate school the head of the of the electrical engineering department at Kearney Carnegie Tech was a man named Everard Mott Williams and professor Williams called me into his office one day and he said Ivan I I need to know what the going price of a good graduate student is I will pay the admissions fees for you to apply to the following doesn't
graduate schools and my secretary will fill out all the forms for you my god but the deal is you have to tell me what happens as a result so this was his way of measuring the field to see what other schools were offering to it what apparently was a top college graduates day so I did and I I was admitted everywhere I had my choice Cornell wanted me to come and they invited me to it akin New York that was in February oh that was a mistake oh they should have left that well enough okay I mean it is a gorgeous town but not in February right not not so much so eventually I went to Caltech why did I go to Caltech why did you go to kill because it was as far as possible for my new mother-in-law I married after my senior year and I went to Caltech precisely to be as far as possible from my new mother-in-law it was a very wise decision personally and professionally both let's just talk at this moment about the professional wisdom it was wise idea both I went to Caltech I got a master's degree in electrical engineering at Caltech no a thesis no thesis course only Oh masters here and the best course
I had there was taught by a professor named Wilkes I think his name was Wilkes Charlie Wilkes I think it was a course in servomechanisms was how you use feedback control and make it stable and yes all those kinds of issues while I was at Caltech I went to a luncheon at the Athenaeum which is the Faculty Club at Caltech and I sat across the table from two guys from MIT Walden was Marvin Minsky and the other was Oliver Selfridge and they told me they spun yarns about computing at MIT MIT and computing at Caltech at that time was terrible just not very good at all the computing field at that time had sort of an East Coast branch and a West Coast branch please the East Coast branch was dominated by MIT and people from MIT they had invented the magnetic core memory they've gotten substantial money from the government to help the West Coast people were not nearly as strong and so I decided to go to him I think for got a PhD it also turns out not a bad decision find us a fine decision - I could not have played that graduate program better had I thought about it well MIT has a very tough master's program with a thesis Caltech had a courses only master's program know theses one year MIT typically three mm-hmm then I went to MIT where I was a student of called Shannon that's a whole other story which involves my mother I'll tell ya but but they the right thing to do I got through all of graduate school in three and a half years because I did the wise choices but here's what I don't understand just in terms of the the process you already have a master's did you go for a master's program now of course you were a groupie director 38c yeah okay and MIT was reluctant to admit me the year before master a year before they had admitted me as a new graduate student from Carnegie Tech part of the deal that I had right they offered me fellowships research assistantships lots of stuff but but it was too close to my mother No and so the next year Wow admit you but you know no money no support you know nothing fortunately I had a National Science Foundation fellowship which was transferable so I just went okay you have to do a PA finally you have to do with theses yes okay what do you choose to do well let me let me tell you more about this lease or other there's are other wonderful people yes please when I was in junior high school at Berkeley who I mentioned before made an introduction introduction to Claude Shannon who we knew quite well Claude Shannon was at the Bell Telephone laboratories so my mother hated to drive she was a terrible driver and hated doing it but she put my brother and me in the back of the car and we drove from Scarsdale New York 20 miles to New York City and other 20 miles to Bell Telephone laboratories in Murray Hill no freeways so this was like a three-hour drive okay we got there Claude Shannon showed us around he was very pleasant to us and showed us all the stuff he had his famous Mouse we saw his feet hey miss my house huh we saw his nim game that you could never beat and a whole bunch of things he showed us it was very nice to us so before I went to MIT I wrote to Shannon who was by then a professor at MIT and said I'm coming to MIT yes could I call on you when I get there I got a very nice letter back from him which said I remember your visit to Bell Labs he said by all means come and that's how I got to be a student of Claude Shannon's it was my mother's courage to put her two boys in the back of her car right and drive 40 miles through city traffic they take us to the laboratory so what comes of this connection well I arrived at MIT with a wife who is eight months pregnant and Shannon says by all means come to the house so I went to his house and in Arlington Betty Shannon put her arm around Marcia and said you will need these baby bottles you will need this diaper rack okay if there's anything else that we have that you need please let me know they became in loco parentis they were just wonderful wonderful what a great relationship to have with your major professor and Shannon of course was a Gadgeteer he had all kinds of stuff in his basement and I kind of understood stuff you know I had been to Canal Street and bought all kinds of stuff great horse herb was and so I was able to work with Shannon on two levels one was sort of a professional level the other was a sort of hobbyist level yes what can we make neat out of this and I remember one day Minsky came over to the Shannon house and he had brought with him a gyroscope which had a which had a disc probably that size in a nice case with good bearings and we managed to get that to spin up and of course you could feel the the strange motion that Jack Saira Scopes have so we fasten it to the front of a bicycle so the steering wheel otherwise and then it turns out you could push the bicycle and at about half a mile an hour the bicycle would stand up upright all
by itself because the spinning gyroscope sort of emphasized the spinning of the front wheel in a very strong way so if the bicycle began to fail to the rope fall to the right that gyroscope would force the steering whatever yes and so it was stable with very low speed yes I was wonderful fun ok that's nothing to do with computers but it was part of the relationship that I had with Shannon who I who loved that kind of thing you know he was an expert juggler well he could juggle bats and he could juggle balls there is a theorem about juggling called the Shannon juggling theorem and is it is simply conservation of hands and conservation of objects put together in a pleasant way it says sort of says that the time that the objects are not in hands plus the time that the objects are in hands plus the depth it can take into half the number of objects on the number of hands and it all adds up to you know some constant so I'm gonna be boring and say what was his specialty and professional direction for you for me for you you were his he was the perfect thesis supervisor says what do you want to do yes I know and I'll tell you more about that because there's another individual in ok needs to be mentioned please I applied for summer work at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory before entering MIT so this this crazy guy from Caltech writes to Lincoln Laboratory and says can I have a summer job I didn't hear anything Marsha is getting bigger and bigger so how are we gonna afford all this and about March I got a letter back which said yes here's your summer job by all means come he'll be in group 51 okay that's great years later I found out the back story it turns out my wife's uncle was a man named Yvonne gettin Yvonne getting caught the raper Prize for inventing GPS he was the founding president of the Aerospace Corporation well he had been a Rhodes Scholar he was a Harvard junior fellow I mean this man was really a smart guy his first name was spelled the same as mine but he printed the primaries he proud the diva and he had a son named Yvan I used to stay at their house whenever I went to Los Angeles one day I was there it was a weekend the old man answers the phone he says yeah he says we have three of them here which one do you want is how often do you have three people with that name in the same place right so he had been one of the people who started the Lincoln Laboratory when he was working for the Air Force and the story is he went to the Lincoln Laboratory for a visit and asked to see my application which forced them to find it whether he said anything to them about me or right right but I have no idea but but at least they found the application and I got the offer well now he may have suggested that I was a good yes but you know and in with greater maturity I realized he would never have done that unless if he thought it hadn't thought of glory through those holes so how does that fit the pocket so I arrived at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and they're running group 51 he is a thing called the tx2 yes which at the time was the very biggest computer in the world and whitey had invented the magnetic core memory and tx2 had a magnetic core memory of 65,000 words it was huge it was the score stack was kind of that size and that was in a cabinet had drivers things and so on it was the biggest magnetic core memory that had ever been built was in fact twice as big as it should have been but that's a whole nother story but it worked the man who designed the tx2 was a man named Wes Clark Wesley a Clark he's he died two or three years ago he and I became quite good friends over the year and he made a huge difference in my life by saying yes you can use the tx2 to make drawings which is what I wanted to do and he gave me doodles of time on the tx2 as my personal computer he used the tx2 as a one-person computer now it was not mobile you couldn't put it on your lap it was a roomful of stuff but I got to use it now as a graduate student so I got to use it from 4:00 to 6:00 in the morning all right but never mind I got up early in bless my wife's heart she got up with me and gave me breakfast and raised the children fairly early and took some care of them and so on so you're working on the largest most important computer in the world at that point know about most important it was certainly the most powerful computer in Lewis about or no question about okay and it was quite a unique machine it had all kinds of i/o stuff on it the CRT it had light pen and had mobs and had switches it had keyboard it had all kinds of things so I'm very interested as I often called this kind of an interview the history of your curiosity so you have access to this most powerful thing what do you want to do with it well what I said to Wes was I'd like to make engineering drawing on it now that's another story that relates to my mother I was in the Scarsdale elementary school right and every kid in Scarsdale is going to go to college is writing a city rule you must go to college right and all my friends had covers on their books because we had to cover the books to there the school owned the book so we had to protect them and they all had covers that said Cornell or Harvard and little shiny beautiful or you know whatever wherever they thought they wanted to go my mother argued that we didn't have enough money to buy such fancy covers but she had some blueprints from my father which were nice big pieces of paper yeah so she covered my textbooks with blueprints okay well I was kind of bored chopped I so I would look at these covers it try and figure out what they meant and of course my father was quite willing to explain them death thrill parolee and some of them were pretty interesting because the water goes into a turbine it goes down a penstock into a scroll case which is kind of shaped like a snail which squeezes the water out towards the middle where it goes from all sides of the turbine and drops into the turbine and cause the rash after turn and those drawings were there I could see all that in the drawing so I learned to read engineering drawings when I was in grade school it's not hard you know it's not rocket science picked they're just pictures right and I thought you know would it be nice if a computer could make those drawings for you it would be so much easier than trying to draw them with a pencil the erasing would be terrific anytime you erase the pencil line it leaves crud on the paper computer you erased the line it's gone right and besides that once you've drawn a line you could move the line you didn't have to leave it where it was right and you can see movies of sketchpad today on the web the best movies are narrated by Ellen okay yes so but watch his movies and then you'll see sketchpad in action and of course nobody had ever seen that before I mean the idea of using a big computer just to make drawings nobody else had the big computer to make the drawings on nor had thought to do that yeah didn't have the impulse to think it was important and bless Wes Clark he knew
that was important now when he died there was a wonderful obituary appeared in the New York Times it was driven by John Markoff whom you might even know I don't know it's written by John Markoff and the title of it is the man who made computers personal and this basic he was Wes Clark's life work was making computers persons by putting the right IO equipment on them by administering them in the right way so that a graduates didn't like me could get the hundreds of hours of computer time yes that it would take to make a program like sets where it happened now is a sketchbook which of course scatman sorry did it emerge them out of your thesis what was my face it was your things emerging and the term came within the thesis right that's a term I invented yes I invented that name for it I mean you get to name things when you do them right so yes I called a sketchpad it seemed appropriate yes it behaved like a sketchpad it was I tended to be used that way and so on and the name of course stuck one of the many things associated with your life is the relationship between the idea its emergence and I'm not even going to call it its commercialization but it's it's transferred to use and when you came up with the concept and demonstrated the capacity what are you thinking about the future of this concept of what you can now allow a computer to do you don't you don't know how many hundreds of times I've been asked that question okay and how many hundreds of times I've gave in the given the correct answer which has said I wasn't thinking about any of that at all okay well that's this was an interesting thing that we can do yes let us do it okay what it means for the future never entered my mind it was clear that making computers able to produce drawings was important but I had no idea why it was important okay what would happen so you've completed your computer your your thesis you have your degree you're clearly showing great talent in the field what's next it's probably straightforward I went into the army I had been an ROTC student so I had a two-year commitment Uncle Sam's army I wrote to the army and said could I postpone my active duty until after I finished graduate school they said of course so you know I postponed way and I was in the Army Reserve during the timelines of crisis dude okay and after three years in the Army Reserve you get promoted from second lieutenant whose pay is almost nothing the first lieutenant who gets at least a reasonable salary so I finally went in the army has the first lieutenant the army got what you might bring to them I mean early on there was a sense of the kind of training you have and how the army might use it or did that take some time for the army to figure out well I the first job I got after graduate school was at the National Security Agency the guy who recruited me for the National Security Agency says we have computers he said I can't tell you how many but suffice to say we measure computing power by the acre and sure enough I went there and they have a basement full of computers which is at least an acre maybe several and there was every kind of computer you could possibly imagine all brand-new all the way so this was you know heaven right then I went in the army of course the army wondered what will we do with a computer science exactly interscience hadn't been oh I'm sorry computer apt guy yeah so they sent me to the University of Michigan okay so a thing called Project Michigan which is an army research contract run by the University of Michigan which has to do with infrared side-looking radar a whole bunch of things of interest today wasn't it and I became part of the US army of the Azon group project Michigan and of course soon as the army as soon as I went in the army I requested transferred to national security in jail which is where I thought I'd belong so I sent that request in and it was denied denied as my colleagues at the the eyes on group said he would be there was a kernel there was a major in there was a lieutenant I was a lieutenant right and that was an education in administration of research contracts and oh yeah so so you know do not go denied did not okay and then another three or four weeks later I got transfer orders to the no security agent turns out they had asked for me I had asked to be sent there but they had more poll with the army than I did so their request was granted mine was denied so you wound up so I got transferred back to the National Security as you entered that world what did you think about the competence of those around you I mean they had acres of capability what about their imaginative use of the material the military service learned long ago that brains win wars Alan Turing single-handedly right figured out how to break the German master code right and that made an enormous difference the world wars right he may have won World War two where I can't tell but Churchill always refers in his memoirs to my most secret source which was in fact Alan Turing there was a splendid case in which Hitler sent orders to Rommel in Africa there was a garble between Berlin and Africa there was no garble between Berlin and England there was no girl between England and Montgomery in Africa with the result that Montgomery had Rommels orders before Rommel had Rommels orders right you have to guess that makes a big difference right but of course it was all burned before reading secret but our people got that they understood and and the military understood that brains are important and and what my experience says I entered the National Party some of the smartest people I have ever met are there ok very they get low pay they do the work because there are loyal citizens and they're very good at it it was amazing in the culture of the university or where you aren't at the moment you pretty much get to follow the research interests that you set for yourself in the army however much it was surrounded by great equipment and good people were you assigned tasks or were you able to set tasks I was in the research arm of the National Security Agency it was much like you universit? it was you could set I search goal well I did things that seemed useful but the tests were you know mutually agreed by me and the management okay and there were wonderful computers to use and was clear that there were things that could be done with them how much was graphic in the kinds of were they were doing it they clearly wanted to use graphics more than they were because the understanding of what the data means is the value and the graphics had a way to let you understand rather than just getting tables of numbers that are you rose to a rather important position in in the Defense Department's use of this you don't not important not at all I didn't rise I was plucked out of the
National Security Agency and sent to DARPA I was called RPE in those days and that's an interesting story because I was called and asked would you like to do this job in darkened I said I I don't think I'm qualified and they said ok and then they asked all the reasonable people to take the job and none of them would and so they came back to me and said would you please take this job because we haven't anybody else so I said ok I I suppose I can do that so I ended up as the director of the information processing techniques office at ARPA with a wonderful research program which have been set up by JCR Licklider I could never have set it up but he set up this great program with all the best people in the country on contract already I didn't have to do that and I my job was essentially to make sure it didn't collapse ok so basically I had to defend this program to other people in the Pentagon explain to them what was going on and I'm a pretty good public speaker and so I was able to do that job fine I did make one big decision the guy called slotnick came in Slavik worked at westinghouse and he said you know we could build a very big parallel computer if only i had the resources to do it and I said ok and persuaded my boss - what money in it and there was a bunch of political turmoil never mind that it ended up at the University of Illinois named iliac for and it had a 20-year lifetime it produced useful work for twenty four twenty years an amazing lifetime for a computer and it was for a fair part of that period the biggest computer in the world I made that decision to say yes to slotnick mostly on the basis that he was a sensible guy with interesting ideas there are those who said it was all wasted money well it may have been wasted I don't know half of all research money is wasted but you never know which half you know we're believed in are almost at the end of the interview which we've deliberately concentrated on you're becoming but I'm going to end with just a few general questions they may not be interesting to you and then we'll go on to something else but broadly you continue an extraordinary productive life developing in many aspects of computer development is it possible to describe how broadly you began to choose problems and so forth I guess this is your your instincts and then you're solving of the problems you set have made all the difference in computer development and I'm just wondering about how you set the questions is it so different in so many context how does one choose what to work on yes and and you know that's an enormous ly complex question the first thing is it has to be something that catches the interest it's hard to work on something you're not interested in okay but the second thing I've always looked for is something that's easy some problems are just too hard I mean boiling the ocean is not a good idea it's just too hard right on the other hand you know there are some easy things that you could do and I've always sought those graphics problem was really easy anything I did was brand new okay there was nobody else there so it was unexplored territory and I had this funny idea that you could you know look through some glasses and as you moved your head the image that you saw would change and you might think that you were then embedded in an artificial world more than a decade later that was named virtual reality but we built such a system at Harvard in the very early days and it was it was a no-brainer I mean I saw the experiment of a helicopter pilot looking through such glasses and looking around the world as the infrared camera below the helicopter turned in Slade to his head and he thought he was at the camera and I said hey we don't need a helicopter we don't need a camera we can use a computer a no-brainer I knew it would work before we ever built it was a no-brainer but nobody had tried it before and so it was new yes then I'm sitting in London at the University of London trying to make fast self timed circuits and we didn't have spice we couldn't simulate the circuits so in order to figure out how to make them fast we had to do the mathematics the mathematics turned out to be outstandingly simple so I wrote a book about it's called logical effort and then that mathematics allows you to to figure out how to make your transistors the best size to make the circuits very fast there that was easy stuff I mean I don't believe in working on problems that are too hard that it's too hard why would you bother and then I got interested in a synchrony almost all computers march to the beat of a clock well okay but then you have to distribute a clock pulse over the entire computer and so the design paradigm that you use says everything in this machine changes at the same time it's in a certain state and then the clock ticks and it's now suddenly in another stages and it's now suddenly in another state that's wonderful for the human mind but mr. Einstein says simultaneity over space doesn't happen it takes 15 minutes for information to get from Mars to earth okay and it takes even longer for information to get from Alpha Centauri to Earth so why do you think that the information over an entire chip can all change instantaneously it can't and the transistors have been getting faster and the chips are being getting bigger but the speed of light hasn't been improving in the mean time and so we're now faced with the problem that the time it takes to get a signal across a chip is much larger than the interval that you have for a clock and that causes all kinds of nasty problems well for the last 30 years nearly isoprene the center of progress of my attention was also the center focus of Morley's attention yes we met at the principal conference in this field I should say Marlies your wife yo Marley is my wife and and and Holly and and partner in our search yes and and so we met at a conference at this principal conference and you know we got to know each other and over time when the time was appropriate I went courting and eventually said yes to an important question and we've been together and happy ever since and you you are as research partners interested in the same you bet problem the question is how do you deal with the transport time of getting information from here to there in some comfortable way that allows you to think about a system which does not have a clock and we've solved that problem we know how to do that well at a moment of Eureka triumph we end this interview okay thank you so much