Joe Thompson and Jack Gilmore

Joe Thompson (seated) and Jack Gilmore operated Whirlwind, the primary digital pc in a position to function in real-time and the primary digital pc at MIT. Credit score: MIT Museum

A short historical past of a Fifties photograph that includes Joseph Thompson, one of many authentic operators of MIT’s groundbreaking Whirlwind pc.

The caption on a black-and-white photograph reads, partly: “In 1951, highschool graduate Joe Thompson, 18, was skilled as one of many first two pc operators. The pc was the Whirlwind, the prototype for the SAGE air protection system.”

MIT’s Whirlwind was one of many earliest high-speed digital computer systems, and Thompson performed a key position in its operation at the beginning of his decades-long profession in computing. With assist from Deborah Douglas, director of collections on the MIT Museum, David Brock of the Pc Historical past Museum not too long ago caught up with Thompson, the primary individual skilled as a Whirlwind operator on the MIT Digital Pc Laboratory, to study extra about his time with the challenge and his subsequent years as a pacesetter within the computing trade.

“They at MIT had been on the lookout for vivid, younger youngsters who weren’t going to varsity,” Thompson advised Brock. “I used to be the primary [operator] to see if it will work, and I suppose it labored effectively. … You needed to study the entire system, and also you’d get to the purpose the place you perceive what they’re doing.”

Additionally seen within the photograph is system programmer John “Jack” Gilmore. In response to a publication from the Pc Historical past Museum, “It had been Jack Gilmore of the Whirlwind challenge, well-known for his software program contributions, who had been key to bringing Joe Thompson into the challenge in an MIT push to fulfill the calls for for expert workers by recruiting from native excessive colleges these college students who had been academically and socially distinctive, however for whom, for no matter causes, school was inaccessible.”

After Whirlwind, Thompson accepted a job with RAND as a programmer engaged on the SAGE air protection system software program. He transferred to California with the corporate, and his group ultimately spun off into the non-profit System Improvement Company. Thompson retired within the Nineties after 4 many years in computing.

Gilmore would go on to work in superior computing analysis at MIT Lincoln Laboratory earlier than beginning his personal agency and spending the remainder of his profession within the computing trade. He died in 2015.

By Rana

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