Les Earnest SAIL Spinoff Bragging
Given that the central theme of this reunion dinner it is likely to be about bragging, let me get it started. I plan to read part of this story and blow my referee’s whistle to declare that I am talking too long, and hand the mike to somebody else. (pause) I should step aside you’re saying. (since there was feedback from Les being too close to a ceiling speaker. Audio from here on is somewhat better). Later on I will post this story online, so that you can read more of it if you are interested. Also the people who are not here, will have a crack. The online version will include links to additional documentation in case anyone would like to refute any of my claims.
First, I will offer a warning: Over the years, I witnessed a number of entities identified below that have engaged in corrupt acts either illegal or grossly unethical, I will add links below to stories in which I bad mouth them which will be handy for lawyers. (audio glitch). However those contemplating such actions should keep in mind the following facts…
One, I generally tell the truth which under U.S. law provides a strong defense against civil or criminal actions except in cases where classified information has been disclosed. Of course classified information has been used extensively since world war two to hide government corruption from the public and I would consider it an honor to be persecuted as a whistle blower like Edward Snowden. (slight applause)
And second, I have not held a top secret security clearance since 1965 so everything I knew then should have been declassified but some can play games with that.
Third, I have the means to defend myself in court. And since turn about is a fair play, potential adversaries should consider the fact that I have initiated law suits against a number of entities both individual and corporate and have won them all with sometimes a net profit.
What am I? Most spinners probably think of me as an ancient bureaucrat, this is true. But I also did some other stuff. You may think that musician Willy Nelson is also rather old, but I view him as a youngster because he is three years younger than me. Let’s see, Given that I am several years past the age by which most people are dead, I believe it is time to start bragging. Incidentally, I have five great grand children so far and if I last another ten years or so I am likely to start seeing great great grand children as my mother did. She made it past a hundred.
OK, Let me say a little bit about SAGE corruption. As you may recall, when president Eisenhower left office (Large Laughter! Les this is equivalent to referring to George Washington’s farewell address as being in the near present of your audience.) I am not sure why that’s funny. (and so more laughter) He gave a speech in which he warned about the military industrial complex. He was being discrete in two ways in that he did not identify the particular program he was talking about and he also didn’t mention the third group of participants in this corruption namely the U.S. Congress. Before coming to Stanford, I spent a dozen years in the corrupt military industrial congressional complex and invented or helped invent a number of things including the first computer network which is the SAGE system which became operational in 1958.
I also did the first cursive handwriting recognizer in the period 1959-1962. The first spelling checker in 1961. The first search engine called “route” beginning in 1961. Later on I initiated the development of a bunch of firsts sometimes alone but generally with a lot of help from my colleagues including the first hand-eye robotics project which I initiated in 1966 the first attempt at an autonomous road vehicle anywhere in the world, that was the Stanford Cart in 1967 which unfortunately didn’t work because of computer performance limitations at the time. I served on the startup committee for the first general purpose computer network namely ARPANET 1967-68 where we foolishly neglected to include email on the first round. (background voice “and security”) SAIL bit map display system in 1971 put interactive displays on everyone’s desk.
We were the first facility in the world I believe to do that. Including the first computer controlled video switch which I designed and built And an Audio switch using digital components to handle analog signals that is pulse width modulation instead of amplitude modulation. I designed the SAIL keyboard which was subsequently adopted by AI groups at Carneige Mellon and MIT and also some corporations. Some of the features are found in keyboards of modern personal computers.
In the early 1970s with Larry Tesler we developed the PUB document compiler which I claim was the first to provide spread sheets although Larry disagrees. Along with enumerated sections, and sub-sections, compilation of table of contents, keyword index, handling of internal and external references. However its deficiencies in mathematical notation inspired Don Knuth to invent the TeX compiler, or whatever he calls it.
In 1971, working with Ralph Gorin we developed the first Spelling Corrector called ‘Spell’ which gave assistance in finding the correct spelling unlike my original spelling checker. It soon spread around the world via the blossoming ARPANET.
In 1973, when I served as local chair on the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence I put together a booklet of reviews of local restaurants, from multiple viewpoints. Later working with Casey Menkee we turned it into a Restaurant Review notebook called Yum Yum. It was sold at the Stanford Bookstore. I also put it up on ARPANET as a free service for those who had access to that. Eventually Yelp turned that into a business.
Also in 1973, I wrote a program called Finger to snoop on what people were doing at SAIL but the users soon turned it upside down on me and turned it into the first social network blogging service. Though those terms did not come into general use until about 28 years later.
In 1974, responding to a food emergency, I designed and built the world’s first computer controlled vending machine, called the Prancing Pony, after the pub in Tolkein’s Middle Earth. It sold for cash or credit by billing by email occasionally giving things away offering a gambling option - double or nothing.
In 1974, with Marty Frost and John McCarthy we developed the Network News Service, called NS, that processed incoming stories from the Associate Press and the New York Times news wires in real time and provided automatic notification to individuals of stories that matched their search descriptions as well as allowing later retrieval. (background “cool idea”) It was used by emergency response teams dealing with the Three Mile Island nuclear malfunction and the Chinese students during the Tianamen Square protests of 1989.
In 1974, I became chair of the ACM special interest group on Artificial Intelligence that is SIGART for a couple of years.
In 1975, with John McCarthy and Mark Crispin, we developed a computer networking scheme called DIALNET that used switched telephone lines and modems to provide the same kinds of data and email services as ARPANET at a much lower entry cost. It never caught on.
In 1978, after becoming editor of the cycling federation rule book, I rewrote all the bike racing rules to make them more compatible with international rules and I added standardized penalties for infractions for all races. I used the pub document compiler to maintain this annual publication until 1985 when I lost my seat on the board of directors because of my advocacy of a strong helmet rule for all races. However they later figured out that I was right and it was later adopted by racing organizations all around the world and after that the recreational riders, so that turned out all right. Saved thousands of lives I claim.
Anyway in 1979, I initiated development of a desk top publishing system using lasers, given that Canon gave us a prototype. Luis Trabb Pardo stepped up to that challenge and made it work using a small microprocessor, the Z9000, and we later tuned that into a spinoff, Imagen.
Also in 1979, we moved SAIL into the newly constructed Margaret Jacks Hall, which I had helped design. (giggling - MJH is part of the old Sanford Quad exterior designed in the 1880s by Frederick Law Olmsted. Les Earnest worked on remodeling the interior) I included a music room that cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars extra and also I sort of replicated the Prancing Pony by putting the coffee room on the third floor next to the stairs and a lounge next to it so that people could meet by chance and chat and it worked but it was not replicated when we moved to the next building, Gates Hall.
Anyway, Unfortunately the music group, of course, got abandoned up on the hill with the decaying D.C. Power Lab and they had a rough go; but they somehow survived, and are thriving today.
Ok let’s see
When we moved to Margaret Jacks Hall, I had hoped it would reduce the tension between SAIL which had most of the computer science research funding and the rest of the department, However in 1980 I learned that John McCarthy had a different motive for making that move. Namely avoiding the small amount of administrative duties that I had been unable to protect him from. Towards that end in 1980 he shut down SAIL and fired me, uh let’s see now - maybe that’s enough.
(Les blows the referee’s whistle, applause 10 or 15 seconds, some dead air then someone says: “Ed Fiegenbaum” who then begins talking).