Gordon Bell

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(Redirected from C. Gordon Bell)

This article is about Gordon Bell, the computer engineer. For Gordon Bell the artist, see Gordon Bell (artist).

C. Gordon Bell (August 19, 1934) is a leading computer engineer and manager, an early employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) who designed several of their PDP machines and later rose to Vice President of Engineering and oversaw the development of the VAX.

Born in Kirksville, Missouri, he received a B.S. (1956), and M.S. (1957) in electrical engineering from MIT. After a Fulbright Scholarship to Australia, he worked in the MIT Speech Computation Laboratory under Professor Ken Stevens, where he wrote the first Analysis-By-Synthesis program. The DEC founders Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson recruited him for their new company in 1960, where he designed the I/O subsystem of the PDP-1, including the first UART and PDP-5 and was the architect of the PDP-4, and PDP-6. Other architectural contributions were to the PDP-5 and PDP-11 Unibus and General Registers architecture.

After DEC, Bell went to Carnegie-Mellon University in 1966 to teach computer science, but returned to DEC in 1972 as vice-president of engineering, where he was in charge of the VAX, DEC's most successful computer.

Bell retired from DEC in 1983 as the result of a heart attack, but soon after founded Encore Computer, one of the first shared memory, multiple microprocessors to use the snooping cache structure. During the 1980s he became involved with public policy, becoming the first, Assistant Director of the CISE directorate of the NSF, and lead the cross-agency group that specified the NREN aka the Internet. He also established the IEEE Gordon Bell Prize in 1987 to encourage development in parallel processing.

He was a founding member of Ardent Computer in 1986, becoming VP of R&D 1988, and remained until it merged with Stellar in 1989.

Between 1991 and 1995 Bell advised Microsoft in its efforts to start a research group, then joined it full time, where he works as of 2005, studying telepresence and related ideas. He is the experiment subject for the MyLifeBits project, an attempt to fulfill Vannevar Bush's vision of an automated store of the documents, pictures and sounds an individual has experienced in his lifetime, to be accessed with speed and ease. For this, Bell has digitized all documents he has read or produced, CDs, emails, and so on. Currently he continues to do so, gathering web-browsing statistics, phone and instant messaging conversations and the like more or less automatically.

Bell is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, ACM, IEEE, and member of the National Academy of Engineering. His awards include: the IEEE Von Neumann Medal, Fellow of the Computer History Museum, honorary D. Eng. from WPI, the AEA Inventor Award, the IEEE Eminent Member's Award of Eta Kappa Nu, and The 1991 National Medal of Technology by President George Bush.

A cofounder of The Computer Museum, Boston, MA in 1979, and a founding board member of its successor, the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA in 1999.




From Computer World "VAX Man" interview (http://research.microsoft.com/~gbell//CGB%20Files/Computerworld%20Vax%20Man%20920622%20c.pdf), Oct. 1992.

  • "Microsoft NT...is going to be very far-reaching. It's going to grab the rug out from under Unix."
  • "In 10 years, you'll see 99% of the hardware and software systems sold through what are fundamentally retail stores."
  • "Twenty-five years from now...Computers will be exactly like telephones. They are probably going to be communicating all the time ... I would hope that by the year 2000 there is this big [networking] infrastructure, giving us arbitrary bandwidth on a pay-as-you-go basis."
  • "Somebody once said, 'He's never wrong about the future, but he does tend to be wrong about how long it takes.' "

One of his classic sayings while working at DEC:

  • "The most reliable components are the ones you leave out."

Bell's Law of Computer Class Formation

Bell's Law of Computer Classes was first described in 1972 with the emergence of a new, lower priced microcomputer class based on the microprocessor. Established market class computers are introduced at a constant price with increasing functionality (or performance). Technology advances in semiconductors, storage, interfaces and networks enable a new computer class (platform) to form about every decade to serve a new need. Each new usually lower priced class is maintained as a quasi independent industry (market). Classes include: mainframes (60's), minicomputers (70's), networked workstations and personal computers (80's), browser-web-server structure (90's), web services (2000's), palm computing (1995), convergence of cell phones and computers (2003), and Wireless Sensor Networks aka motes (2004). Beginning in the 1990s, a single class of scalable computers called clusters built from a few to tens of thousands of commodity microcomputer-storage-networked bricks began to cover and replace mainframes, minis, and workstation. Bell predicts home and body area networks will form by 2010.

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