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Comments, Queries, and Debate: The Atanasoff Story -- A Response Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129643D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 3 page(s) / 18K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Alice R. Burks: AUTHOR [+3]


Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2122 U.S.A.

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Copyright ©; 1990 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries, and Debate: The Atanasoff Story -- A Response

Alice R. Burks

Arthur W. Burks

Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2122 U.S.A.

Saul Rosen's comment (Annals, 11, 2,1989, pp. 144-145) on A. R. Mackintosh's review of our book (The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story) begins by taking Mackintosh to task for appearing to accept our version of a controversial matter "without question and without criticism." Yet it is hard to imagine this distinguished and disinterested physicist reading our book and endorsing it with no consideration of the opposing view.

Our book, in fact, develops the Atanasoff side -- that the ENIAC was derived from him and that his computer was the first electronic computer -- in the context of a lengthy federal court suit in which evidence and testimony from both sides were scrutinized. It is our complete presentation of this suit that convinced Mackintosh of our position and led him to say that those who wish to continue to call the ENIAC the first electronic computer will in future "have to argue for it."

Our book also presents the matter from a more technical perspective than is possible in a court of law. We give a detailed description of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), based on Atanasoff's 1940 manuscript, and we sort out the original inventive concepts, showing which were used in the ENIAC, which in later computers.

Rosen terms our delineation of these derivations from Atanasoff "fantasies of Arthur Burks," on the argument that "the judge did not rule that major parts of the ENIAC and even the EDVAC were derived directly from Atanasoff." But major parts are not the issue; computing concepts, including basic circuitry, are. We show that critical use was made of Atanasoff's concepts in both the ENIAC and the EDVAC, and that Eckert and Mauchly claimed these concepts as their own in various patents. The ENIAC patent claims were such, for example, that Atanasoff could not have duplicated his own computer without their permission. It was on the basis of these claims that Judge Larson invalidated the ENIAC patent.

First and foremost among Atanasoff's contributions was electronic switching itself, found not only throughout the ENIAC but in all electronic computers thereafter. Atanasoff invented a number of simple vacuum-tube switches (executing logical primitives NOT, NOR, NOTAND, etc.), which he combined into serial binary adders, which he further combined into a vector processor. Mauchly testified that he was "perfectly convinced" by what he saw of the ABC in 1941 that Atanasoff's adder "did in fact work." Yet he and Eckert used an improved version of this circuit in the EDVAC, and they took out several serial binary adder patents without reference...