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George Stibitz

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  George Stibitz (1904 - 1995)

At about the same time as Claude Shannon was working on his masters thesis on boolean algebra and electronic circuitry, George Stibitz, a Bell Labs researcher, had a similar thought.

Realising that boolean logic could be used for the circuitry of electromechanical telephone relays, Stibitz gathered together a conglomeration of old relays, batteries, flashlight bulbs, wires, and tin strips - and sat down at his kitchen table in 1937 to fiddle.

The result was the prototype binary adder circuit - an electromechanical circuit that controlled binary addition. Stibitz incorporated his new circuitry into his Model K (the K standing for - appropriately, if less than imaginatively - Kitchen) digital calculator.

Stibitz took his circuit back to Bell Labs and over the next two years, working in conjunction with Samuel Williams, devised a machine that could calculate all four basic mathematical functions with complex numbers.

The Complex Number Calculator (later renamed the Bell Labs Model Relay Computer), came to be widely recognised as the world's first electronic digital computer.

In 1940, Stibitz installed his invention at the company's main office in Manhattan, linking it to three separate teletype machines within the same building, allowing the computer to be used from more than one location. Nine months later, he added a fourth teletype - 250 miles away in New Hampshire.

There, in front of a somewhat sceptical audience consisting of members of the American Mathematical Society, Stibitz demonstrated the process of remote-control electromechanical computation by transmitting data over the teletype and receiving the computer's calculations in the same way - at the same time changing the concepts and uses of computers forever.

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In 1941, Stibitz became a member of the National Defense Research Committee, working with computational theory. In 1945 he began working as a private consultant and, by 1954, had developed a precursor of the electronic digital mini-computer.

Stibitz joined the Department of Physiology at Dartmouth College in 1964, and continued his research into the applications of mathematics, physics, and computers on biophysical systems until 1983.

By the time of his death in 1995, Stibitz was professor emeritus of physiology at the medical school at Dartmouth.

Binary - So Simple a Computer Can Do It
What's So Logical About Boolean Algebra?