Views of Lester Earnest
Lester Earnest with his 3D drawing of a 6D hyper-cube
An Eye for Lies and a Tooth for Truth. I was born in 1930 in San Diego, California, and grew up there as a bicycling beach boy. Outside of school I generally wore only maroon swimming trunks year around and managed to be dishonorably discharged from the Cub Scouts at age 7 for artistic misconduct, then got an FBI record at age 11 as a result of dabbling in cryptography.
I am evidently a bit Aspergerish and seem to live closer to reality than most people. In particular, I don’t get much out of fantasies and don’t understand why others like to look at art or read fiction. I happened to get involved with computer networking from its inception and have since read hundreds of articles and books that allegedly report the history of that field but have yet to find a single one that is reasonably complete and reasonably accurate. There are some that are accurate but ignore important history and lots more that are full of lies. In fact nearly all historical accounts of things I know something about turn out to contain fiction, probably because good stories sell better than the boring truth.
I initially thought that these matters could be fixed simply by writing truthful accounts but soon discovered that doesn’t work – you must decisively refute the bogus stories while their originators continue to lie about them. I also recognize that I occasionally also distort the truth but appreciated it when others point that out to me so that I can fix it.
This web site is a work in progress and you may occasionally find a broken link or other problem. If so, please send a note to les at cs.stanford.edu. You may also see entries of the form Soon see “Title” and if one of those titles interests you, feel free to ask me to write it sooner.
With increasing age, I am now trying to complete my challenging Bucket List, shown in Steve Jobs set a Precedent that I Will Not Follow with the general goal of ending corruption in governments, corporations and athletic organizations while avoiding the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. To do that, I plan to live to age 112.
Lester Earnest (1930-2043) After graduating from Caltech as an electrical engineer in 1953 I spent three years in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Electronics Officer doing digital flight simulations of missiles and manned aircraft. I then was recruited by MIT to help design the SAGE air defense system, which included the world’s first computer network. As discussed below in the section on Computer Networks, over the years I made several unique contributions to the creation of the Internet.
I now immodestly claim to have created more important inventions than anyone else alive. However, you probably never heard of me because I did it quietly in open source mode, often with help from colleagues, while taking no patents and making the resulting documentation freely available to the public. When others turned those inventions into commercial products that came into use around the world and brought in many billions of dollars I viewed that as an honor even though they never gave me a nickel.
However I choose to measure the importance of inventions based not on financial returns but on how much they improve the quality of life and claim that on that basis also my inventions are the best. In fact, I helped create the two most important inventions of the last fifty years, namely interactive computing and computer networking, which together enabled the Internet and World Wide Web, all based on contributions from many people cooperating in open source mode. Open source development, without patents, is vastly superior to proprietary developments with patents, which should be terminated.
Modern corrupt corporations such as Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner pretend that they invented the Internet and are manipulating governmental authorities to give themselves local monopolies and to end network neutrality so that they can raise service fees on everyone. If they succeed, American networking services, which are already low grade compared with many other countries, will continue to go downhill.
Here is a partial list of my “Firsts,” together with their starting dates:
Š 1959 First interactive drawing and writing on a computer display,
Š 1960 Cursive handwriting recognizer,
Š 1961 Spelling checker,
Š 1961 Search engine (ROUT),
Š 1966 Personal online calendar (LESCAL),
Š 1966 Hand-eye-ear robot,
Š 1967 Digital photography,
Š 1967 Self-driving vehicle (Stanford Cart),
Š 1971 Document compiler with spreadsheets (PUB),
Š 1973 Online restaurant reviews (California YumYum),
Š 1974 Network news service (NS),
Š 1975 Computer controlled vending machine (Prancing Pony),
Š 1975 Social network and blogging service (FINGER),
Š 1979 Desktop publishing using laser printers,
Š and lots more.
For more about these inventions, click on my picture above.
Beginning in 1965 I also designed, set up, named and managed the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) for graduate research, nominally in collaboration with John McCarthy. It turned out to be a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship as discussed below under SAIL and the many spinoffs are reviewed below under Stanford Spinners.
Beginning in 1973, I led a fight for reform of U.S. bicycle racing against crooked businessmen and dopers, a task that is not yet complete. I accidentally revolutionized bicycle racing worldwide by introducing two new rules into American racing that subsequently spread around the world:
Š 1985 Prohibition of blood doping,
Š 1986 Requirement that strong helmets be worn.
The blood doping prohibition eventually helped nail Lance Armstrong and his fellow crooks. There was strong initial opposition to the strong helmet rule but it too spread around the world and has saved thousands of lives. It also has been widely adopted by recreational riders. For more on these matters see the section below on Cyclops USA.
Risks and Rewards. I have had a somewhat challenging but largely enjoyable life and now have 15 descendants, including six great grandchildren so far, and they are among the most genetically diverse people on Earth.
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.
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. This technological marvel introduced the use of modems for packetized digital communications as well as packet radio systems for control of manned interceptors and missiles. I designed the weapons guidance and control functions.
1960s: ARPAnet, the first general purpose network, was also initiated by people from MIT inspired by J.C.R. Licklider and led by Lawrence G. Roberts. I served on the startup committee, influenced the design features and choice of contractor, and my Stanford lab (SAIL) became an early participant.
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. I helped set up that project, which ran under a DARPA contract that I administered.
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. The HTML language used many features of our earlier PUB language but with a better syntax. Further developments are now housed at MIT.
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.
I started cycling in 1933 but didn’t get involved in racing until 1972 when my sons dragged him into it.
1970s I was successful in improving many racing rules and in 1979 I completely rewrote the American rules, adding penalty standardization, and got them adopted.
1980s I wrote the first medical control rules for cycling in 1984 and got them adopted. After investigating the unethical but legal use of blood doping by the American cycling team in the 1984 Olympics, I introduced a rule prohibiting that practice, which then spread around the world in many sports and much later nailed Lance Armstrong. After a lengthy battle I also got a rule adopted in 1986 requiring that strong helmets be worn. It too spread around the world and has since saved thousands of lives.
1990s I initiated the creation of a new national bike racing association called USA Cycling. However corrupt commercial interests bribed their way into control of the legislative process and succeeded in giving a majority of the seats on the Board of Directors to commercial interests who made up less than 1% of the participants in the sport. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts at reform, the crooks still control this sport as well as most of the US Olympic Committee and its other subordinate athletic organizations.
John McCarthy (1927-2011) was a world-class innovator who introduced the term “artificial intelligence” (AI) and did a lot of pioneering work in that field. He was raised as a Communist and later learned to speak Russian, then made friends with a number of Russian scientists.
1948 Graduated from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in mathematics, then spent another year in graduate studies.
1950-53 went to Princeton University and received a PhD in 1951, then taught there.
1953-55 Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Stanford.
1955-58 Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Dartmouth College and co-edited a book with Claude Shannon titled Automata Studies (1956). Also introduced the term “artificial intelligence” at a summer conference there.
1958-62 Assistant Professor of Communications at MIT and with Marvin Minsky cofounded the AI Project there. Created the list programming language called LISP, which has been widely used in AI work, and oversaw creation of one of the earliest chess-playing programs. He also wrote a paper on how to do general purpose timesharing that inspired several groups in the MIT community to develop such systems. That technology soon dominated the world of computing and enabled computer networking.
1962-1965 Returned to Stanford as a Professor of Mathematics and started a new AI Project funded by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), a part of the U.S. Defense Department. When a Computer Science Department was formed in early 1965, McCarthy joined it, as did Edward Feigenbaum. They then put together a proposal to ARPA for an expanded AI research facility that was funded.
1965-2000 Earnest joined McCarthy and Feigenbaum in late 1965 and set up the new SAIL facility (see below). In 1980, after SAIL moved back to the main campus, McCarthy shut it down. In 2000 he retired, then passed away in 2011. Meanwhile Sebastian Thrun revived SAIL in 2003 and it has continued.
Planet Earth. Life first appeared here about 3.8 billion years ago and has evolved a lot while surviving five mass extinctions caused by environmental disasters, the most recent being the result of a larger asteroid striking the north end of the Yucatan Peninsula about 66 mya (million years ago), which wiped out all life above ground including the large dinosaurs. Mammals then took over and eventually hominids (proto-humans) appeared about 6 mya and have evolved as hunter-gatherers for millions of years. Adaptations to that lifestyle put a lot of genetic attitudes in their minds that have been passed down to us but many of those attitudes do not work well in the modern world of rapidly advancing technology. Consequently, mankind is now causing the sixth mass extinction of life, which will turn the planet over to a new species unless we can find a way to change our ways quickly.
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).
Funding was substantially increased in 1965 and Lester Earnest joined as Executive Officer. He designed a new computer research facility to fit in an incomplete building in the foothills above the Stanford Campus, got it built and named it SAIL.
It ran there for many years with a population of 100+ doing graduate research on various projects in AI as well as computer music and sound synthesis.
Seventeen winners of ACM Turing Awards (the computer science equivalent of a Nobel Prize) have come from SAIL so far.
SAIL was also a hotbed of innovation that directly or indirectly produced dozens of commercial spinoffs. The founders of both Microsoft (Bill Gates & Paul Allen) and Apple Computers (Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak) were introduced to interactive computing by people from SAIL and many other successful companies were founded directly or indirectly by people from SAIL including Amazon, Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle), Cisco Systems, D.E. Shaw & Associates, Google, and Rambus.
A SAIL document and program archive beginning in 1972 is available online, courtesy of Bruce Baumgart, at SAILDART.
In the late 1970s SAIL undertook a planetary research project in collaboration with astronomer Carl Sagan, who came every few weeks to view photos of Mars taken by satellite and looking for visible changes.
SAIL was shut down in 1980 after a move to the newly reconstructed Margaret Jacks Hall in the Outer Quad of the Stanford campus, then after the Computer Science Department moved to the larger William Gates Hall, SAIL was revived in 2003 by Sebastian Thrun, who went on to create Stanley, the first successful self-driving vehicle, then took that technology to Google, where it has recently been moved into a new company called Waymo.
SAIL is still in operation today.
SillyCon Valley (1972-2018) is the promotional name given to the southern part of San Francisco Bay in 1971 and became a great marketing success as the name “Silicon” was added to other places around the world. This place had earlier developed an innovative culture but it needs a better name. Soon see “Renaming SillyCon Valley.”
When I came to Stanford at the end of 1965 and bought a house in the Town of Los Altos Hills it 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. Now, after real estate values have shot skyward, my home value is well over 600 times what I paid for it and the construction of many mansions has caused this place to become very snooty.
Stanford Spinners. During 1963-89, five related research groups at Stanford trained hundreds of computer scientists, engineers, musicians and others who have settled around the world but have especially influenced the development of SillyCon 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 parts of SAIL, then blossomed separately.