In this month’s edition of Pioneers in Tech, we wish a happy birthday to technology visionary Gordon Bell, who turns 89 August 19. Born in Kirksville, Missouri, Bell is a co-founder of what is today the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.
His official title today is “Microsoft researcher emeritus,” and the “emeritus” is well deserved given his influence on innovation in the computing world. As vice president of research and development at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), he led development of the first mini- and time-sharing computers. His lifelong interest and research in parallel computing—the idea that multiple processors could tackle the same task simultaneously—led to “Bell’s Law of Computer Classes,” a concept first introduced in 1972 that he has revised since to explain the evolution and eventual obsolescence of various computer classes, from the ENIAC to the smartphone.
To encourage innovation in high-performance computing (HPC) in the mid-1980s, he developed the Gordon Bell Prize, now a $10,000 award presented annually through ACM (the Association for Computing Machinery). From 2020 to 2022, ACM also awarded the Gordon Bell Special Prize for HPC-Based COVID-19 Research, and starting this year the special prize will recognize use of parallel computing in climate modeling. The special prize also comes with a $10,000 award funded by Bell.
Exploring virtual presence
In 1995, Bell joined Microsoft, working on telepresence, which he described as “being there, while being here, at possibly some later time.” In later years, Bell has devoted himself to research in “extreme lifelogging,” or building a vast personal database of one’s life movements to build a digital memory. Although interest in lifelogging has waned since the advent of social media and smartphones, Bell began wearing an automated camera around his neck in 2000. The camera took a photograph every 30 seconds. (He no longer wears the camera and told ComputerWorld in 2016 the project was not bringing a lot of value to his life.)
Although not as comprehensive as an extreme lifelog, Bell’s website is an excellent resource for exploring this fascinating technology pioneer’s life work.
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