Edmund Berkeley

The Electric Brain Simon of Edmund Berkeley

Edmund Callis Berkeley (1909–1988) is an American computer scientist, publisher, and a social activist, who worked to achieve conditions that might minimize the threat of nuclear war.

Berkeley was born in New York on 22nd of February, 1909. After receiving his BA in Mathematics and Logic from Harvard in 1930, he pursued a career as actuarial clerk in Mutual Life Insurance of New York. In 1934 he took a position with Prudential Insurance of America, where he eventually became chief research consultant. He stayed at Prudential until 1948, except for service in the United States Navy during World War II.

First meeting of Berkeley with computers was in 1939, when he visited Bell Laboratories to see George Stibitz's Complex Number Computer. Next was in 1942, when he joined the U. S. Navy and worked at Dahlgren Laboratory as a mathematician. There, he was assigned to Howard Aiken's Harvard Laboratory and observed Mark I and worked on building on the next sequential calculator project (Mark II). In November, 1946 he drafted a specification for Sequence Controlled Calculators for the Prudential, which led to signing a contract with the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in 1947 for one of the first UNIVAC computers.
In 1948, when Prudential forbade him to work on projects related to avoiding nuclear war, even on his own time, Berkeley left to become an independent consultant and found his own company—Berkeley Associates.

Shortly after the establishment of his company, in 1949, Berkeley wrote one of the first books on electronic computers for a general audience, which made him famous—Giant Brains, or Machines That Think (see the book). In the book he described the principles behind computing machines (called then "electric brains", "mechanical brains", "sequence-controlled calculators", or various other terms), and then gave a technical but accessible survey of the most prominent examples of the time, including machines from MIT, Harvard, the Moore School, Bell Laboratories, and elsewhere. Berkeley stated, that in the future "automated library" catalog records (and, eventually, the documents) would be on microfilm and retrieved by a digital computer: "You will be able to dial into the catalogue machine `making biscuits.' There will be a flutter of movie film in the machine. Soon it will stop, and, in front of you on the screen will be projected the part of the catalogue which shows the names of three or four books containing recipes for biscuits."

In the abovementioned book, Berkeley also outlined his own project, which seems to be the first personal computer in the world, called Simon - We shall now consider how we can design a very simple machine that will think.. Let us call it Simon, because of its predecessor, Simple Simon... Simon is so simple and so small in fact that it could be built to fill up less space than a grocery-store box; about four cubic feet.... It may seem that a simple model of a mechanical brain like Simon is of no great practical use. On the contrary, Simon has the same use in instruction as a set of simple chemical experiments has: to stimulate thinking and understanding, and to produce training and skill. A training course on mechanical brains could very well include the construction of a simple model mechanical brain, as an exercise.

Radio ElectronicsPlans on how to build this computer, as well as a general description of the computers state of the art, were published in a series of 13 consecutive articles (see the first article, which is an introduction to Simon and relay logic) of the journal Radio Electronics, starting from October 1950 issue (see the nearby photo of the front cover of the journal).

Simon is a Harvard architecture machine, containing 129 relays, a stepping switch, and a five-hole paper tape feed. The program is executed directly from paper tape. Program instructions and data are input via a 5-level paper tape reader (5 bits or holes wide), as 5-level paper tape was standard for use with teletypes before the advent of ASCII. Data may also be input manually via the front-panel switches during program execution.

Various registers are provided, some for general data storage, others for targeted purposes. The registers and busses are a mixture of 2- and 4-bits wide. The processor (ALU) is also 2-bits wide.

Output is via the 5 lamps, connected to the Output Registers.

The electric brain Simon

The electric brain Simon

Operations performed by Simon included: addition, negation, greater than, selection and several bitwise operations. To program Simon one have to prepare a paper tape with the machine instructions and data. The paper tape is the program memory: Simon executes the program instructions as it reads the tape, it does not load the program.

The tape reader reads in one direction only. All instructions on the tape are executed in sequence, there is no opportunity to skip instructions or branch. Some degree of conditional operation is provided for by the selective assignment function of the ALU. There is one opportunity to create a loop by forming the entire program tape into a loop.

A program may include programmed halts. Program execution stops, and the machine waits for manual indication before resuming execution. The output lamps can be observed at this point and/or a data value can be input from the front panel.

As an educational instrument, Simon was directed more towards the electrical implementation of logic and introducing the principles of binary arithmetic, logic and automatic computation to a wider public, than towards programming. As such, and as a minimal machine, programmability is rather limited. The one saving grace may be that the program can be quite long (limited only by paper tape handling), a feature that certainly would not have been feasible in an attempt to make an inexpensive stored-program machine at the time.

Initially Simon cost about $600 to construct. The first working model was built at Columbia University with the help of two graduate students. By 1959, over 400 Simon plans were sold.

What makes "Simon" unique? According to Mr. Berkeley, the machine has established at least half a dozen world's records.
 - It is the smallest complete mechanical brain in existence.
 - It knows not more than four numbers; it can express only the number 0, 1, 2 and 3.
 - It is "guaranteed to make every member of an audience feel superior to it."
 - It is a mechanical brain that has cost less than $1,000.
 - It can be carried around in one hand (and the power supply in the other hand).
 - It can be completely understood by one man.
 - It is an excellent device for teaching, lecturing and explaining.

In 1950 Berkeley founded, published and edited a journal, which was developed in 1951 to the Computers and Automation, thought to be the first computer magazine.

Later Berkeley designed and sold several other simple calculating devices—Geniac (Genius Almost-Automatic Computer) (see the lower image), Tyniac (Tiny Almost-Automatic Computer), Weeniac (Weeny Almost-Automatic Computer), Brainiac (Brain-Imitating Almost-Automatic Computer).

The Geniac

A manual for Geniac (Genius Almost-Automatic Computer)

In 1956 Berkeley published an article (see Small Robots Report), summarizing his ideas.

Edmund Berkeley was a genius, whose eccentricities had become proverbial even before his talents were widely recognized. He died in Boston on 7th of March, 1988, survived by his wife, Suzanne, two sons, a daughter, and a granddaughter.