What is "Simon"? A very simple model, mechanical brain — the smallest complete mechanical brain in existence. The machine was conceived by Edmund C. Berkeley, president of E.C. Berkeley and Associates actuarial consultants (of 60 State Street, Boston, and 36 West 11th Street, New York). Mr. Berkeley described the machine, before he had it built, in his book, "Giant Brains, or Machines That Think," which was published last November. In the book, he wrote:
"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.
Who built "Simon"? The machine represents the combined efforts
of a skilled mechanic, William A. Porter, of West Medford, Mass., and
two Columbia University graduate students of electrical engineering,
Robert A. Jensen (of 76-19 175th Street Flushing, L.I., N.Y.) and
Andrew Vall (of 4237 Judge Street, Elmhurst, L.I.,N.Y.). Porter did the
basic construction, while Jensen and Vall took the machine when it was
still not in working order and engineered it so that it functioned.
designed a switching system that made possible
the follow-through of a given problem;
set up an automatic synchronizing system;
installed a system for indicated errors due
to loss of synchronization;
re-designed completely the power supply of the
In their own words, the two students simply put to work their knowledge of electrical engineering, after mastering the mass of intricate detail with which they were presented last March, when Mr. Berkeley brought "Simon" to Columbia.
Capsule biographies: Vall, 23, received his bachelor's degree
from Columbia's school of Engineering in 1949, and is working for his
master's degree in electrical engineering. In June, he will join Bell
Telephone Laboratories to do electronic development work. He is an Army
veteran. Jensen, 25, holds a bachelor's degree from City College (1949)
and is now working for his master s degree. He hopes to do development
work in the computer or switching field. He is a veteran of
three-and-a-half years with the Army Air Forces.
What operations does "Simon" perform? Addition, negation, greater than, and selection.
What did "Simon" Cost? About $600. The time and effort of the two Columbia students was contributed.
What makes "Simon" unique? According to Mr. Berkeley, the machine has established at least half a dozen world's records:
What is the machine's future? Mr. Berkeley's answer follows:
"Simon has two futures. In first place Simon can grow. With another
chassis and some wiring and engineering, the machine will be able to
compute decimally, Perhaps in six months more, we may be able to have
it working on real problems. In the second place, Simon may start a fad
of building baby mechanical brains, similar to the hobby of building
crystal radio sets that swept the country in the 1920's."
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