SAGE Revealed: Birth of large-scale, real-time, distributed computing

SAGEToday in 1956, the development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), is disclosed to the public. From MITRE’s website: “Looking back at the development of the computers supporting the SAGE, the origins of many key computer innovations are readily apparent. SAGE’s use of telephone lines to communicate from computer to computer and computer to radar laid the groundwork for modern-day modems… Bob Everett’s invention of the light gun is often referred to as one of the precursor’s to today’s computer mouse. Whirlwind‘s control program, the largest real-time computer program written at that time, spawned a new profession, software development engineers and programmers.

Many other computer breakthroughs such as magnetic-core storage, modular design, interactive graphic displays, on-line common databases, and continuous and reliable operation can also be traced to the development of Whirlwind. In addition, software innovations like the ability to accommodate multiple, simultaneous users, the use of advanced data system structures, structured program modules, and global data definitions grew out of SAGE’s development.”

Here’s a 1998 discussion of SAGE:

The lecture takes place in front of 400 square feet of actual SAGE hardware, including Weapons Director and Intercept Technician consoles! This equipment is from the last functioning SAGE center in North Bay, Ontario (Canada), decommissioned in 1982. The USAF SAGE Film “In Your Defense” will also be shown. “I like Ike” buttons optional.

The Speakers:
This lecture’s speakers represent a variety of perspectives, from the history of technology, to hardware and software systems engineering:

Les Earnest: Senior Research Scientist Emeritus, Stanford University, Project Engineer and System Designer, SAGE system hardware. Founding President, Imagen Corporation; former Associate Chairman, Stanford University Computer Science Department; Executive Officer, Stanford AI Lab; Department Head, Information Systems Dept, MITRE Corporation; Member, Technical Staff, MIT Lincoln Laboratory… and inventor of the original (DEC-10/20) FINGER program!

James Wong: Computer Systems Engineer, Burroughs Corporation; Unisys Corporation; Project Engineer on SAGE system software for The RAND Corporation 1955-1963; Team Leader, System Development Corporation (SDC), Lincoln Laboratory, SAGE and Project “465-L.” Mathematician and programmer for the IBM CPC, 701, and RAND Johnniac. Wong is retired and currently volunteers as an instructor in Mathematics with the Learning Disabled Program at Foothill College.

Paul Edwards: Senior Research Scholar and Lecturer, Program in Science, Technology & Society, Stanford University; author of “The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America.” Edwards has also authored dozens of articles on the history of computing and has held visiting professorships at Stanford, Cornell, the University of Michigan and UC – Santa Cruz. His next book is entitled: “The World in a Machine: Computer Models, Data Networks, and Global Atmospheric Politics.” Edwards will be making a 30-minute presentation.

This talk was sponsored by The Computer Museum History Center and Sun Microsystems.

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