Views of Lester Earnest
les at cs.stanford.edu
Lester Earnest with 3D drawing of 6D hyper-cube
Now past age 85, I am trying to complete my challenging Bucket List and have decided to live until 2043 in order to do that. For details see Steve Jobs set a Precedent that I Will Not Follow.
If you peruse this web site you will see a number of lines saying Soon see “Title”, which represent stories I plan to write. If you would like to see one or more of them sooner, let me know. Also, this web site is being continually reorganized, so pieces may get broken. If you see something that doesn’t look right please tell me: les at cs.stanford.edu.
Computer networks are a result of four main developments so far, with more to come. By chance I contributed to all four and am evidently the only person in the world who did that.
Š 1950s: Creation of the SAGE air defense system, the first interactive computer system and the first computer network. Initiated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with funding from the US Air Defense Command.
Š 1960s: ARPAnet, the first general purpose network, was also initiated by people from MIT.
Š 1970s: Internet Protocols developed at Stanford University by a group headed by Vint Cerf which enabled networks of different types to be interconnected in the 1980s.
Š 1990s: The World Wide Web, developed by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland, provided a standardized interactive user interface, enabling cooperative research, commercial development, and improved search engines.
Cyclops USA is an irregular journal of bicycle racing, proposed reforms and helmet standards. It was initially published in pamphlet form and switched to the web in the new millennium.
Š I was successful in improving racing rules, adding medical controls, adopting strong helmet standards and exposing corruption in American bicycle racing arranged by crooked businessmen, though the latter task is not yet complete.
Š Some of these reforms have spread around the world such as the strong helmet rule, which has saved thousands of lives, and blood doping prohibitions, which helped nail Lance Armstrong and his crooked colleagues.
John McCarthy (1927-2011) was a world-class innovator who introduced the term “artificial intelligence” and did a lot of pioneering work in that field. He was raised as a Communist and later learned to speak Russian and made friends with a number of Russian scientists. However after being trapped by a Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia in November 1968 he began moving in a different direction and ended up as a conservative Republican.
Š Graduated from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in mathematics in 1948 and after a year of graduate studies there he went to Princeton University and received a PhD in 1951. He taught there until 1953, when he became an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Stanford until 1955.
Š Became an Assistant Professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College until 1958, co-edited a book with Claude Shannon titled Automata Studies (1956).
Š In 1958 went to MIT as an Assistant Professor of Communications and with Marvin Minsky cofounded an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Project there.
Š Created the list programming language called LISP, which has been widely used in AI work, and one of the earliest chess-playing programs.
Š Returned to Stanford in 1962 as a Professor of Mathematics, started a new AI Project there, sponsored by ARPA, and when a Computer Science Department was formed in early 1965 he joined it, as did Edward Feigenbaum. They put together a proposal for an expanded AI research facility that was funded by ARPA.
Š They then recruited me to be Executive Officer of the expanded facility. I put it in an abandoned building in the foothills above the Stanford campus next to a lake and named it SAIL (see below).
Lester Earnest (1930- ) is an obscure innovator who grew up in San Diego, California as a bicycling beach boy.
Š After rising through the ranks of the Cub Scouts I was dishonorably discharged for artistic misconduct, so I never got to be a Boy Scout.
Š Got an FBI record at age 11 as a result of dabbling in cryptography, then got into more trouble.
Š Barely graduated from Caltech in 1953 as an electrical engineer.
Š Became an Aviation Electronics Officer in the Navy for three years, where I did digital flight simulations of missiles and manned aircraft using a crude electromechanical computer that I rewired to make it more efficient.
Š Designed, set up, named and managed SAIL (see below), which became a hotbed of innovation that produced dozens of commercial spinoffs, some very successful.
Š Personally invented many things, generally with help from my colleagues, including the first spelling checker, search engine, personal online calendar, hand-eye-ear robot, self-driving vehicle, document compiler with spreadsheets, network news service, computer controlled vending machine, social network and blogging service and desktop publishing system using laser printers.
Š Operated in “open source” mode and had no problem with other people taking my inventions and turning them into money-making commercial products.
Š Beginning in 1973, led a fight for reform of U.S. bicycle racing against crooked businessmen and dopers, a task that is not yet complete (see Cyclops USA above).
Š Became became partially disabled in 1985 as a result of the stress of doing a bootstrap Silicon Valley startup, then muddled ahead in a fog for 14 years until I got it fixed. Along the way I retired in 1988 and have since continued as a cyclist and world traveler, writer and troublemaker.
SAIL, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, came out of the Artificial Intelligence Project initiated in 1963 by Prof. John McCarthy with funding from the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). That funding was substantially increased in 1965, when I joined as Executive Officer. I designed a new computer research facility in the foothills above the Stanford Campus, got it built and later named it SAIL. It ran there for13 years with a population of 100+ doing research on a number of projects in AI as well as computer music and sound synthesis but was shut down in 1980 after a move to the newly renovated Margaret Jacks Hall in the Outer Quad of the main campus.
SAIL was a hotbed of innovation that directly or indirectly produced dozens of commercial spinoffs, some very successful such as Amazon, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle), Cisco Systems, D.E. Shaw & Associates, Google, and Rambus. Seventeen winners of ACM Turing Awards (the computer science equivalent of a Nobel Prize) had previous SAIL affiliations.
Silicon Valley (1972-2018). When I came to Stanford at the end of 1965 and bought a house in the Town of Los Altos Hills, that area was part of the “South Bay” and was a quiet and friendly rural community dominated by apricot orchards with a few horse ranches and cattle fields. There were few fences or gates so people could walk or ride cross-country in almost any direction. Some people now pretend that it was called the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” which was a myth.
After big technology companies began flourishing in the area, many of them being Stanford University spin-offs, the name “Silicon Valley” was introduced in 1971 and became a great marketing success as the name “Silicon” was added to a number of other places around the world. However I believe that was a really poor name choice. Soon see “Sillycon Valley needs a better name.
Stanford Spinners. During 1963-89, five related research groups at Stanford trained many hundreds of computer scientists, engineers, musicians and others who have settled around the world but have especially influenced the development of what came to be called Silicon Valley. We call them spinners because they produced a lot of spinoff organizations, products and services.
Š SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory),
Š HPP (Heuristic Programming Project),
Š CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics),
Š NPDP (Network Protocol Development Project),
Š TeX+MF (TeX/METAFONT Project)
Most started as part of SAIL (see above) then blossomed separately. This section is still under development and will eventually include more detailed lists of accomplishments.