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Nathaniel Rochester III (1919-2001)

Nathaniel Rochester

On August 31, 1955, J. McCarthy, Dartmouth College,  M. L. Minsky, Harvard University,  N. Rochester, I.B.M. Corporation, and C.E. Shannon, Bell Telephone Laboratories submitted "A PROPOSAL FOR THE DARTMOUTH SUMMER RESEARCH PROJECT ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE" to the Rockfeller Foundation for support. This proposal is widely credited for coining the term "artificial intelligence".

I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that an IBMer played a significant role in drafting a historically important scientific document. I was curious about him and his achievements.

In 1956, he published a classic article in which he and collegues simulated a network of neurons on IBM 701 and 704 calculators (yes, that is what computers were known as then!) to test Hebb's theories. When he co-wrote the proposal, he was Manager of Information Research at IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York. His photograph was published in Time Magazine,  May 11, 1981. Here is his biography that was published by IBM Journal of Research and Development: 25th Anniversary Issue, 1981. (see pg. 842).

Mr. Rochester, an IBM Fellow, is currently working on the development of a portable personal computer. After working on radar in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory and at GTLE, he joined IBM in 1948 in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was the architect of the test assembly and headed the architecture efforts for the tape processing machine and the IBM 701. He wrote the first symbolic assembly program, a predecessor of SAP. He managed the IBM 700 series engineering during the design of the IBM 703,704, 705, and the start of the 709. He joined IBM Research when it began in 1955 and directed work in computer theory and experimental computer design. In 1961, he joined the Data Systems Division to start a group that, among other things, designed IBM’s first two timesharing systems, QWIKTRAN and CPS, and accomplished the initial design of the PL/I language. His patents on the arithmetic unit of the 701 and on the variable-word-size architecture of the tape processing machine earned him an Outstanding Invention Award from IBM. He has served on government panels on air defense, antisubmarine warfare, cryptanalysis, and air traffic control. At M.I.T., Mr. Rochester received a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1941 and was elected a member of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma XI; in 1958 he was a Visiting Professor; and currently he is a Visiting Scientist there. Mr. Rochester is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

At the end, the 1955 proposal listed several people who would be interested in attending the event. Amongst these were six IBMers: John Backus, Alex Bernstein, W. L. Duda, Herbert Gelernter, Nathaniel Rochester, and David Sayre. WOW!


  1. http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/history/dartmouth.html
  2. Rochester, Nathaniel and H. L. Gelernter, "Intelligent Behavior in Problem-Solving Machines" IBM Journal of Research and Development 2:4 (October 1958): 336-345.
  3. Rochester, N., Holland, J.H., Haibt L.H. and Duda, W.L. (1956). Tests on a Cell Assembly Theory of the Action of the Brain Using a Large Digital Computer, IRE Transaction of Information Theory IT-2:80-93
  4. http://www.library.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=3228


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