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Philips and I: a few snapshots
 

I was working at the Mathematical Centre in
Amsterdam when I was introduced to the people
who built computers at Philips Research La-
boratories in Eindhoven. It was a type of people
I did not know, I found them very strange and
they did not inspire confidence at all. Later I
learned that I had been introduced to electronic
engineers.

In Eindhoven they built the "Peter" and the
"Pascal", and then Philips started its computer
industry in Apeldoorn, where — if I remember
the numbers correctly — the P1000 and the
P1400 were developed in the 60s. I went to
the festive inauguration of one of those ma-
chines; their demonstration was the algorithm
for the shortest path, which I had used a-
bout a decade earlier for the inauguration
of the ARMAC. I remember finding those
guys a little lacking in originality; I was
not given any credit.

At the Technological University Eindhoven,
where I had gone in 1962, I had to build up
a group in Computing Science. By the end of
the decade we had the world's leading centre

 

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in operating system design, but Philips Apel-
doorn hired none of my pupils, and a few
years later Philips had to fold up its main-
frame business. I remember the shock of seeing
my potential domestic market being wiped out
and the (difficult) conclusion that as a profes-
sor I would work for export only.

While I combined the functions of Burroughs
Research Fellow and of Professor Extraordinarius
at the T.U. Eindhoven, I had the misfortune of
inventing a possibly patentable solution under
circumstances that made it totally unclear
whether the patent would belong to Burroughs
or to Philips. In an effort to sort out that
mess, I drove with Ir. P.J.P.G. Simons to Köln
where we would meet a few relevant Burroughs
officials; Ir. Simons was Adjunct Director of
"Octrooien & Merken" (= Patents & Trademarks) at
Philips. He was a nice, interesting and know-
ledgeable man, we had never met before but
turned out to have a number of common ac-
quaintenances, and an animated conversation
evolved effortlessly. At a given moment he
asked in a tone of some disbelief "Did I
understand correctly that you never lived in
the United States?". I confirmed that impres-
sion, upon which he asked in utter amazement

 

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"But how could you then become an expert in
your area?" ["Maar hoe hebt U dan een expert
op Uw gebied kunnen worden?"] When I told
this story to Ria, she immediately guessed my
answer, viz. "By creating the area myself.".

Please remind yourself of Simons's question,
each time you hear people complaining about
"the cultural imperialism" of the USA: if there
is such a thing, the USA seems to be the last
country to blame for it.

Nuenen, 21 December 2001

 
 
 

Prof. Dr. Edsger W. Dijkstra
Department of Computer Sciences
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-1188
USA


Transcriber: John S. Adair
Copy Editor: Ham Richards


Last revised on Thu, 12 Jun 2003.