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Kenneth Lane Thompson DL Author Profile link

United States – 1983
Additional Materials

MIT Project MAC

MIT Project MAC began in 1963, with funding from the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. One of its goals was to build an advanced time-sharing system named Multics. The Multics project used MIT's CTSS time-sharing system as a development tool. See also the 1990 Turing Award Winner, Fernando J. Corbató.

Bell Labs

Other people in the Bell Laboratories included Peter Neumann, Joseph Ossanna, Doug McIlroy, Robert M Morris, Rudd Canaday, Brian Kernighan, Victor Vyssotsky, Douglas Eastwood.


The BCPL language was designed at Cambridge University in 1966 by Martin Richards. It is a typeless block-structured imperative language that allows programs to access memory without checking. BCPL was designed to be easily portable to multiple system environments. Project MAC memo MAC-M-352 describes the language and its first compiler implementation.


GECOS was a batch processing system for the General Electric GE-600 line of mainframe computers. Bell Laboratories and MIT used GECOS to support Multics development and debugging.

PDP-7 and PDP-11

The PDP-7 was introduced by Digital Equipment in 1964. About 100 were made; the machine had 4K of 18-bit words and cost $72,000.

In 1970, Digital Equipment introduced the PDP-11 minicomputer, which had a 16-bit word size and an architecture that made adding new devices simple. It became very popular; hundreds of thousands were shipped before production ended in 1997.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (seated) working at the PDP-11.

Oral Interviews

An oral interview was done in 2005 by John Mashey for the Computer History Museum. They describe the subject matter as including: Bell Laboratories; Unix operating system; Condon, Joe; Belle. A transcript of that interview can be found here.

Princeton provides a transcript of an interview with Ken Thompson from September 6, 1989 here.