Thinking Machines Corporation was a
supercomputermanufacturer founded in Waltham, Massachusettsin 1982 by W. Daniel "Danny" Hillis and Sheryl Handlerto turn Hillis's doctoral work at MITon massively parallel computing architectures into a commercial product called the Connection Machine. The company moved in 1984 from Waltham to Kendall Squarein Cambridge, Massachusetts, close to the MIT AI Laband Thinking Machines' competitor Kendall Square Research. Besides Kendall Square Research, Thinking Machines' competitors included MasPar, which made a computer similar to the CM-2, and Meiko, whose CS-2 was similar to the CM-5. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1994, with its hardware and parallel computing software divisions eventually acquired by Sun Microsystems.
:"We're building a machine that will be proud of us." – Thinking Machines' motto
Thinking Machines produced a number of Connection Machine models (in chronological order): the CM-1, CM-2, CM-200, CM-5, and the CM-5E. The CM-1 and 2 came first in models with 64K (65,536) bit-serial processors (16 processors per chip) and later smaller numbered versions (16,384 (16K) and 4,096 (4K) processors). The Connection Machine was programmed in a variety of specialized languages, including
*Lispand CM Lisp (derived from Common Lisp), C*(derived from C), and CM 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 SIMDarchitecture (Single Instruction Multiple Data), while the later CM-5 and CM-5E were MIMD(Multiple Instructions Multiple Data) using commodity SPARCprocessors using a " fat tree" interconnect. Thinking Machines also introduced the first commercial RAIDdisk array, called the DataVault, in 1985.
The CM-2 required a
Symbolics3600 LISP machines as a front-endprocessor; later models used Sun Microsystemsworkstations or VAXminicomputers.
Thinking Machines developed the C* programming language as an extension of the C programming language for the Connection Machine data parallel computing system.
Thinking Machines became profitable in 1989 thanks to its
DARPAcontracts,Fact|date=March 2008 and in 1990 the company had $65 million (USD) 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, IBM, and in particular, NCUBEand MasPar. By 1992 the company was losing money again, due to lack of business; CEO Sheryl Handlerwas forced out in the face of public criticism.
Thinking Machines filed for
Chapter 11bankruptcy in August 1994. The hardware portion of the company was purchased by Sun Microsystems, and TMC re-emerged as a small software company specializing in parallel software tools for commodity clusters and data miningsoftware for its installed base and former competitors' parallel supercomputers. In December 1996, the parallel software development business was acquired by Sun Microsystems, forming the basis of Sun's entry into High Performance Computing.
Thinking Machines continued as a pure data mining company until it was acquired in 1999 by
The program WAIS, developed at Thinking Machines by
Brewster Kahle, would later be influential in starting the Internet Archiveand associated projects including the Rosetta Diskas part of Danny Hillis' Clock of the Long Now.
Greg Papadopouloslater became Sun Microsystems, Inc.'s Chief Technology Officer.
Many of the hardware people left for
Sun Microsystemsand went on to design the Sun Enterpriseseries 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 for Dun & Bradstreetsoon after the company entered bankruptcy.
Thinking Machines alumni ("thunkos") were instrumental in forming several parallel computing software start-ups, including
Ab InitioSoftware and Applied Parallel Technologies. Ab Initiois still an independent company; Applied Parallel Technologies, later renamed to Torrent Systems, was acquired by Ascential Software, which was in turn acquired by IBM.
Besides Danny Hillis, other noted people who worked for or with the company included
Greg Papadopoulos, 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, Mirza Mehdi, Alan Harshman, Alan Mercer, James Bailey, Tsutomu Shimomura[http://www.takedown.com/bio/tsutomu.html] and Jack Schwartz. DARPA's Connection Machines were decommissioned by 1996. [http://www.cisl.ucar.edu/computers/gallery/index.jsp]
* [http://www.inc.com/magazine/19950915/2622.html The Rise and Fall of Thinking Machines] , "Inc. Magazine", September 1995
* [http://www.longnow.org/views/essays/articles/ArtFeynman.php 'Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine' by W. Daniel Hillis]
* [http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/Thinking-Machines.aspx Thinking Machines] by Alex Papadimoulis in Tales from the Interview
FROSTBURG— a CM-5 used by the NSA
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