Thursday, July 20, 2023

Edward Fredkin, RIP

Alex Williams:

An autodidact who left college after a year, he nonetheless became a full professor of computer science at M.I.T. at 34. He later taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and at Boston University.

Not content to confine his energies to the ivory tower, Professor Fredkin in 1962 founded a company that built programmable film readers, allowing computers to analyze data captured by cameras, such as Air Force radar information.


A developer of an early processing system for chess, Professor Fredkin in 1980 created the Fredkin Prize, a $100,000 award that he offered to whoever could develop the first computer program to win the world chess championship.


With a pair of innovations […] he demonstrated that computation is not inherently irreversible. Those advances suggest that computation need not consume energy by overwriting the intermediate results of a computation, and that it is theoretically possible to build a computer that does not consume energy or produce heat.

Rachel Gordon and Alex Shipps:

One of the early computer programmers, Fredkin served as director of Project MAC from 1971 to 1974, spearheading efforts to develop and improve computer time-sharing systems.


Fredkin wrote a PDP-1 assembler language called FRAP (Free of Rules Assembly Program, also sometimes called Fredkin’s Assembly Program), and its first operating system (OS). He organized and founded the Digital Equipment Computer Users’ Society (DECUS) in 1961, and participated in its early projects. Working directly with Ben Gurley, the designer of the PDP-1, Fredkin designed significant modifications to the hardware to support time-sharing via the BBN Time-Sharing System. He invented and designed the first modern interrupt system, which Digital called the “Sequence Break”.


Fredkin was broadly interested in computation, including hardware and software. He was the inventor of the trie data structure, radio transponders for vehicle identification, the concept of computer navigation for automobiles, the Fredkin gate, and the Billiard-Ball Computer Model for reversible computing.


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He also taught a great Problem Solving course at MIT, inspired by Polya's How to Solve It.

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