Thinking Machines

From Academic Kids

Thinking Machines Corporation was a supercomputer manufacturer founded in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1982 by W. Daniel Hillis and Sheryl Handler to turn Hillis's doctoral work at MIT on parallel computing architectures into a commercial product called the Connection Machine. The company moved in 1984 from Waltham to Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from the MIT AI Lab and competitor Kendall Square Research.

Thinking Machines produced a number of Connection Machine models: in chronological order, the CM-1, CM-2, CM-200, CM-5, and CM-5E. The Connection Machine was programmed in a variety of specialized languages, including *Lisp and CM Lisp, derived from Common Lisp, C*, derived from C, and FORTRAN (using a special compiler to translate standard Fortran code to the parallel instruction set of the machine). The CM-1 through CM-200 were examples of SIMD architecture (Single Instruction Multiple Data), while the CM-5 and CM-5E were MIMD (Multiple Instructions Multiple Data).

Thinking Machines became profitable in 1989 thanks to its DARPA contracts, and in 1990 the company had US$65 million in revenue, making it the market leader in parallel supercomputers. In 1991, DARPA reduced its purchases amid criticism it was unfairly subsidizing Thinking Machines, at the expense of other vendors like Cray and IBM. By 1992 the company was losing money again; CEO Sheryl Handler was forced out in the face of public criticism.

Thinking Machines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 1994, and emerged as a small software company writing applications for its former competitors' parallel supercomputers.

Many of the hardware people joined Sun Microsystems and went on to design the Sun Enterprise series of parallel computers. The Darwin datamining toolkit, developed by Thinking Machines' Business Supercomputer Group, was purchased by Oracle. Most of the team that built Darwin left Thinking Machines for Dun & Bradstreet soon after the company entered bankruptcy.

Besides Danny Hillis, other noted people who worked for or with the company included David Waltz, Guy L Steele, Jr., Karl Sims, Brewster Kahle, Bradley Kuszmaul, Charles E. Leiserson, Marvin Minsky, Carl Feynman, Cliff Lasser, Alex Vasilevsky, Doug Lenat, Stephen Wolfram, Eric Lander, Richard Feynman, and Mirza Mehdi.

Besides Kendall Square Research, Thinking Machines' competitors included MasPar, which made a computer similar to the CM-2, and Meiko, whose later offerings were similar to the CM-5.

Motto: "To make a machine that will be proud of us"

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