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IEEE Milestone Award Event | Celebrating Two Major Landmarks in Computer History – Programme Unveiled

The IEEE History Committee has approved two IEEE Milestone Awards for major developments in computer history which took place in Manchester. Bronze plaques marking these awards will be unveiled in Manchester on the afternoon of 21st June 2022, the 74th anniversary of the first program run by the Manchester Baby computer.

There will also be a morning event in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry at which the replica Baby computer will be demonstrated by  a team of volunteers and there will be a display of material from the Ferranti archives.

The two awards are for the Manchester University “Baby” Computer and its Derivatives, 1948-1951 and the Atlas Computer and the Invention of Virtual Memory 1957-1962. After the plaque unveilings there will be talks describing these two developments and the reasons why they are considered historically important.

Programme

IEEE Milestone Awards Event

Manchester Computers – Baby and Atlas

Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, Liverpool Road,
Manchester, M3 4FP
10:30 and 11:15 21st June 2022

10:30 and 11:15 Two demonstrations of the replica Baby computer, built for the 50th anniversary in 1998. One demonstration will take place at 10:30 and the other at 11:15. Located in the Revolution Manchester Gallery.

 Kilburn Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL
13:00 21st June 2022

Registration
13:00 – 14:00 North entrance, ground floor of the Kilburn Building.
Refreshments (tea, coffee), displays of computer history, vintage films of Manchester computers in the lecture theatre.

Welcome & Introduction
14:00 Jim Miles, University of Manchester, Local Meeting Chair
14:10 Nalin Thakkar, Vice President for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester
14:20 Steve Welby, COO IEEE and José Moura, Former President IEEE

Introduction to the IEEE Milestone Program
14:20 Brian Berg, IEEE History Committee

Unveiling of the Plaques
14:40 José Moura, Former President IEEE and Steve Welby, COO IEEE will present the two plaques to Nalin Thakkar, Vice President, The University of Manchester

Refreshments

 Technical Seminar
15:20 Simon Lavington: The Manchester “Baby” and its derivatives
15:40 Roland Ibbett: Atlas
16:00 Peter Denning: Virtual Memory Today
16:20 Steve Furber: Current Computer Science Research at Manchester

Closing Remarks
16:40 Izzet Kale, Chair, UK and Republic of Ireland Section, IEEE
16:45 Vote of thanks by Roderick Muttram, Meeting Chair

Reception
17:00 – 18:00 in the 1st floor foyer and courtyard of the Kilburn Building

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Sponsors

The Manchester ‘Baby’ Milestone

In 1946 F C (Freddie) Williams and Tom Kilburn started researching a novel computer memory system based on electrostatic charge storage. By the autumn of 1947 they had successfully demonstrated their random-access memory system – later called Williams-Kilburn Tubes. But was their system robust enough for sustained use in a high-speed computer? The only way to prove this was to build a computer using Williams-Kilburn Tubes and to run programs on it.

The proof was the Baby, a small-scale experimental computer that first ran a program in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Manchester University on 21st June 1948.

Its historical importance was twofold: it contained the first cost-effective random-access memory system and it demonstrated for the first time a stored program running on a general-purpose computer.

The Baby computer was of immediate interest to the mathematicians at Manchester University. Williams’ engineering team added to the Baby’s facilities so that, by April 1949, the mathematicians could use the enlarged computer, now known as the Manchester Mark I, for more ambitious mathematical investigations. Amongst its new facilities, the Manchester Mark I introduced modifier, or index, registers – a feature seen on practically all modern computers.

Under a contract from the Ministry of Supply (forerunner of the MOD) the Manchester company Ferranti Ltd. produced a re-engineered production version of the university’s computer called the Ferranti Mark I, which was sold on the open market. The first Ferranti Mark I was delivered to the University of Manchester in February 1951. One more Ferranti Mark I and seven Ferranti Mark I* computers were delivered, three of them being shipped abroad (to Canada, Holland and Italy).

The Manchester Atlas Milestone

The Atlas project, led by Tom Kilburn, was a joint venture between the University of Manchester and Ferranti Ltd. Atlas incorporated many novel features that together made it the most powerful computer in the world: asynchronous pipelined operation, a high-speed parallel arithmetic unit, extracodes, interleaved main core store, simultaneous operation of many types of input/output device and, most significantly, virtual memory. The whole system ran under the control of the Atlas Supervisor, the first multi-tasking, multi-user operating system. The first production version of Atlas was officially inaugurated at the University of Manchester in December 1962.

The Supervisor and virtual memory enabled Atlas to switch rapidly to a different program whenever the current program was held up, e.g. by an input/output transfer. Several programs could be co-resident in the store but none of them could be allowed to know which physical store locations were available to them rather than to others. This fundamental concept underpins much of modern computer security. Originally called “One-level Storage”, the Atlas virtual memory also provided each user with a very large virtual memory space without the need to know how or where the program would be located in physical memory.

The University of Manchester Atlas

When a program required a new word from memory, if it was in the core store it was accessed immediately. If it wasn’t, the Supervisor determined the location of the required page in the drum store, transferred it from the drum into an empty page in the core store and created a new empty page by transferring an old page back to the drum. To make the whole system run as fast as possible it was necessary to choose the page of the core store least likely to be required again, for which a “learning program” in the Supervisor was invented. Because transfers of code and data between the small fast core store and the large, slower, magnetic drum were effected by the Supervisor, each user had the illusion of operating in a very large, fast memory.

Virtual memory was soon incorporated into the design of a number of major academic and commercial computers. It has become so commonly used that the only computers today without virtual memory are a few supercomputers, embedded processors and some vintage personal computers.

In all, three Atlas 1 and three smaller Atlas 2 computers were delivered by Ferranti. The largest Atlas 1 was able to run 2,500 jobs in a typical week, thanks to the close integration of its high-speed processor and Supervisor.

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IEEE History Milestones Program

The IEEE History Milestone program has commemorated over 200 notable achievements in electro-technology around the world. Sixteen of these are located in various parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland, including Bletchley Park (Code breaking), Cornwall (Transatlantic radio signals) and Glasgow (Standardisation of the Ohm).

The Milestone program is organised by the IEEE History Center, based at the IEEE Operations Center in Piscataway, New Jersey. Nominations for the award of a Milestone plaque are reviewed for approval by the IEEE History Committee. The subject of the nomination must relate to work done at least 25 years ago. Further Details about the program and a full list of Milestones can be found on the IEEE History Centre website at: https://ethw.org/Milestones:IEEE_Milestones_Program

More details about the Milestones being unveiled in Manchester today can be found at:
ethw.org/Milestones:Small_Scale_Experimental_Machine
ethw.org/Milestones:Atlas_Computer

The unveiling ceremony and technical symposium are being sponsored by the Committee of the UK & Ireland Life Members Affinity Group (funded by donations from IEEE members to the IEEE Life Member Fund and the IEEE Foundation), ARM Limited, the University of Manchester Department of Computer Science and the Computer Conservation Society.