BoingBoing had a story the other day about a man that had an encounter with Mr. Kirsch in a coffee shop. The encounter started with Kirsch saying,
"That’s the problem with a lot of people”, ...“they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before."When the much younger man asked what the old man had done, Kirsch said simply "I invented the computer." WOW! I am sure the readers wondered Is that true? I expect this incident to appear in a cartoon one day soon much like Al Gore saying he invented the internet. But here is the truth...Russell Kirsch is a very interesting and important man in the world of "inventing the computer".
As it turns out, I talked with Mr. Kirsch back in 2007 after I wrote a blog post about him (I had spelled his name wrong but really he just called to say thank you). He told me the story of a young man involved in the thermonuclear weapons calculations. This was during the cold war era in the 1950's. As I understand it, that program was the impetuous for the the building of the first programmable computer here in the United States. Kirsch had been a part of that program and he was the young man. An article in the Oregonian in 2007 tells us:
|Russell Kirsch with the image the first digital image. |
2007 edition of the Oregonian
In 1957, Kirsch was a computer programmer -- a job category that, at the time, must have seemed closer to magician than to engineer. Kirsch and an elite team worked with SEAC, the Standards Electronic Automatic Computer, the federal government's first electronic programmable computer.As he was telling about his work on thermonuclear weapons calculation (programming?), I think he mentioned the International Ballistic Missile program. My memory is not what it used to be. He told me how he played with the computer on his own time...without the knowledge of his superiors probably. We all know that Dilbert's boss would have gone ballistic over something like that...no pun intended. Kirsch may have spent a little bit of the company's time playing too but he didn't say that. Sounds familiar doesn't it? He laughed softly as he told the story. I had read an article in the Oregonian the day before (2007) about him. They told about the first digital image taken with a device he created using the the government programmable computers. That first snapshot was a picture of his son, a small baby at the time. The Oregonian told how that image was chosen by Life Magazine as one of the pictures that changed world. We all know digital photography is a wonderful addition to our world.
When I last talked to Mr. Kirsch he and his wife, an art historian I believe, were working on an Apple program looking at replicating art on the computer. I hope that research has been used somewhere in our cameras or computers today.
So did Russell Kirsch invent the computer? Well yes and no. Was he a man on the list of people that helped accomplish that task? Yes he was. Was he a man that changed the world in a very big way? I think so. But best of all I think he has a wonderful sense of humor that leads him to watch the face of a young nerds as he blows them out of water when he says, "I invented the computer." I love that a lot! And you might like to know that Russell Kirsch is in his 82 year of life...amazing!
Backlink to older posts (please forgive the "blogrot". I am working on it!): Russell Kirsch