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Interview with Tom Kilburn

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129780D
Original Publication Date: 1993-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

GEOF BOWKER: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

Professor Tom Kilburn played a key role both in the development of the Mark I computer end in the founding of the Department of Computer Science at Manchester University. In this interview, he describes how he became involved with computers and reflects on the nature and significance of his contribution to the field. The following is a compilation made from two interviews carried out with Tom Kilburn on two mornings in late autumn 1992 by Geof Bowker and Richard Giordano. Professor Kilburn gave us his spontaneous responses to unnotified questions, and we hope the reader will take the material in this light. He did not review this script -- being convinced that any report would put a different ";spin"; on the material from what he intended, and being happy to stand by his spoken word. We have only very lightly edited the transcript, excising one or two unclear passages and tidying up the grammar as minimally as possible. We would like to thank Tom for his generosity with his time -- his generosity of spirit shines through his answers.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1993 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Interview with Tom Kilburn

GEOF BOWKER

RICHARD GIORDANO

Professor Tom Kilburn played a key role both in the development of the Mark I computer end in the founding of the Department of Computer Science at Manchester University. In this interview, he describes how he became involved with computers and reflects on the nature and significance of his contribution to the field.

The following is a compilation made from two interviews carried out with Tom Kilburn on two mornings in late autumn 1992 by Geof Bowker and Richard Giordano. Professor Kilburn gave us his spontaneous responses to unnotified questions, and we hope the reader will take the material in this light. He did not review this script -- being convinced that any report would put a different "spin" on the material from what he intended, and being happy to stand by his spoken word. We have only very lightly edited the transcript, excising one or two unclear passages and tidying up the grammar as minimally as possible. We would like to thank Tom for his generosity with his time -- his generosity of spirit shines through his answers.

University days

Bowker Did your parents encourage you to go to university?

Kilburn: Yes. They had no experience of university themselves; they just had an overall view that education was the thing. The university part was subsidiary.

Giordano: What did your father do?

Kilburn: He was the general secretary of a woolen firm in Yorkshire that had about 2,000 employees. He first of all started out as a clerk in the railway office in Dewsbury and very shortly after that, from the age of 16 until he retired at 65, he was with the woolen firm, where he gradually worked his way up from office work to general secretary.

Bowker Originally you read mathematics at Cambridge University. Tell us a little bit about what you did there.

Kilburn: Well, it was wartime. I was born in 1921 so when war broke out I was 18 -- and call-up was always imminent. I was able to go up to Cambridge as an open scholar from the local grammar school, reading mathematics. I had been reading mathematics almost exclusively at the grammar school since I was about 14; the headmaster there was a mathematician with Cambridge connections.

After I arrived at Cambridge, I was called up after two years. The rules were that if you got a first in your first year, then you were allowed a second year, and then the next rule was that if you got a first in your second year it didn't matter -- you were called up.

IEEE Computer Society, Sep 30, 1993 Page 1 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 15 Number 3, Pages 17-32

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Interview with Tom Kilburn

During my last year at Cambridge there was a fellow called C.P. Snow, who had a reputation of trying to explain the relationship between arts, humanitie...