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Robert Everett & Jay Forrester
Real-Time Computer Technologies
Robert Everett and Jay Forrester were pioneers in the development of early
digital computer equipment during the years many consider to be the most productive
decade for computing technology: 1946-1956.
A native of Nebraska, Forrester received a B.S. degree in electrical
engineering from the University of Nebraska
in 1939. Everett received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Duke
University in 1942. The two met as graduate students in electrical engineering
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1944, the U.S. Navy contracted Forrester
and Everett to develop a universal flight trainer and aircraft simulator.
Even as students they knew that the analog calculating machines available
couldn't do the job. Calculations on those machines took days, and this project
called for something that would react instantly, solving many equations at
once. Plus, a machine like that could have many different uses.
The result of Everett, Forrester and their team's work was Whirlwind,
the first real-time electronic digital computer. This fast, reliable, versatile
system replaced expensive, unreliable electrostatic tubes with dependable
random access magnetic core memory -- a technology that would dominate computers
for about 20 years. The technology involved the phenomenon that when current
flows through a core, the core becomes magnetized even when the current is
removed. The introduction of this kind of memory makes computers smaller in
size, faster to access data, and more powerful.
Whirlwind became the direct forerunner of the computers that,
today, control air traffic and weapons systems, operate real-time reservations
and banking systems, and keep track of records. The project also yielded several
technologies still in use today including RAM, which became available in 1953.
A concept for core memory had been patented by An
Wang at Harvard University"> in 1949,
but his technique involved using the cores on single wires to form delay lines.
The Whirlwind Project conceived the technique of stringing the cores onto
a matrix of wires and thus producing a random access memory. By 1949, the
Navy was losing interest in Whirlwind, but that summer, the Soviet Union detonated
its first atomic bomb. People realized that computers would be essential in
the defense of the country, and interest in Whirlwind was renewed. Forrester
implemented the development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE)
system from Whirlwind-based prototypes. In 1953, Forrester's magnetic core
memory was added to the system. Forrester left the project in 1956 to focus
on a new field -- system dynamics,
where he introduced the world to the concept of using computer simulations
to analyze social systems. Meanwhile, SAGE began operating in 1958 and was
used as an air defense system until the 1980s.
Forrester received his M.S. degree from MIT in 1945. He stayed
on to become director of MIT's Digital Computer Laboratory until he changed
his focus to system dynamics and began teaching at MIT's Sloan School of Management">.
Today Forrester is Germeshausen Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer at
Sloan. In 1943, Everett became a member of the staff of MIT Servomechanisms
Laboratory, engaging primarily in the development of hydraulic servomechanisms
for stabilized shipboard radar antennas. In 1956, he became head of Division
VI of Lincoln Laboratory">, where he was
in charge of the SAGE air defense system design and test, and directed Lincoln's
data processing research and development. From 1969 to 1986, Mr. Everett served
as president of The MITRE Corp.. Today,
Everett is a senior scientist of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and
a member of the Ballistic Missile Defense Advisory Committee. His work has
been published in numerous technical journals, and he has been awarded several
patents in the fields of magnetic drum memories and display devices.
For their work in real-time computer technologies, Forrester
and Everett were awarded the National
Medal of Technology by President Bush in 1989.