[This is a translation from Hungarian into (pidgin) English of the Kemeny
Memorial article. The article was published in the newspaper "Nepszabadsag"
(Liberty of the People), which is the most popular newspaper in Hungary].
"Soft accent - hard character"
May 31, 2001
He would be 75 years old today, John Kemeny. He, who made a computer
language, BASIC, which is the most successful one till now, who was a
world famous mathematician, he was born in the downtown of Budapest, in
that region, from where a lot of other world famous scientists begun their
He went to school for first degrees in school of Mr Rac.
He was a pupil in the secondary school Berzsenyi. He had a very good
teacher of mathematics, Arpad B=F6lcshazy, who made him interested in
mathematics. He did not finished his school. The Kemeny family ran away
from nazism and they emigrated to USA. He begun to learn English only
after he was 13 years old, but he became the best student of his school in
New York. After high school he became a student at the famous Princeton
University. He was an army soldier in 1945 in Los Alamos. He took part in
the Manhattan Project in the group of the later Nobel laureate Feynman.
After the army he finished his university study and made his PhD in
mathematical logic at the same University. He became a member of
Einstein's team at age 22.
Dartmouth College called him to organize a mathematical chair, which was
in a short time very well known countrywide [USA]. He taught new
disciplines for the first degrees in College, and told them to take part
in mathematical research during college years. In the year 1957/58 as a
lecturer of the American Mathematical Association he taught his method in
40 universities or colleges.
John von Neumann saw clearly the big power of computers in arithmetical
computation. Kemeny saw that it has to be used by everybody. Kemeny tried
to made it possible. First of all he made a computer center at Dartmouth
using sponsorship of General Electric, and made the first practical shared
computer system. It was a revolutionary new information system, which
worked until 1984. At the end it had 11,000 terminals. It was followed by
other information systems in the American universities. He saw that the
computer will be available to everybody only when it will have a very
simple programming language. So he and T. Kurtz made the BASIC language,
which became the most widely used programming language. (Bill Gates became
so rich, making among others Microsoft version of BASIC)
The first conference on artificial intelligence was organized in Dartmouth
in 1956, and Kemeny wrote the first vision about electronic library in
1962. His vision of the information society was published in his book "Man
and the Computer" in 1972.
Dartmouth College had big finance and organizational problems in 1970.
Kemeny became the 13th president and he worked as president 11 years. He
organized the education for women, the summer trimesters, and teaching for
Kemeny was in love with teaching. He was a brilliant teacher. He had a
special feeling what was not clear for students, and made it clear for
everybody. When he became the president of the college he was told that he
would not be teaching any more. But he answered, "If I have a hobby, you
would let me do it two times a week. Teaching is my hobby so let me
He worked as a mathematician his whole life, mainly in the field of
probability. He worked out new theories of "Markov - chains" and their
usage together with J. L. Snell. He was a mathematical consultant of the
RAND Corporation, which is a research institution of the American Air
Force, in the field of military application of the game theory.
President Carter named Kemeny the leader of the Presidential Commission
studying "Three Mile Island" accident, which was the first big accident
at atomic power stations. He was shocked by the results. He was an
optimist, so he wrote, there are solution for this problem, as there are
solutions for the other problems of the society, too. He argued a lot for
the security of atomic power stations.
His very successful life ended with a heart attack at Christmas in 1992.
He, the scientist famous this time not only abroad, but in our country,
too. He knew what is important, and what isn't. In the last public speech,
he told: The whole of mankind are your brothers and sisters.
Akos Robert HERMAN, PhD
Former Director General
National Technical Information Centre and Library