Gordon Bell: Extended Biography

Gordon Bell spent 23 years (1960-1983) at Digital Equipment Corporation as Vice President of Research and Development, where he was responsible for Digital's products. He was the architect of various mini- and time-sharing computers (e.g. the PDP-6) and led the development of DEC's VAX and the VAX Computing Environment. Bell has been involved in, or responsible for, the design of many products at Digital, Encore, Ardent, and a score of other companies. He has been involved in the design of about 30 multiprocessors. In 1995 on joining Jim Gray at the Microsoft Bay Area Research Center, his interest switched to scalable systems or computer clusters aka scale out and away from shared memory multiprocessors (scale up).

Bell has an SB and SM degree from MIT (1956-57), was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of New South Wales (1957-58),  Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University (1966-72) and received an honorary D. Eng. from WPI (1993).

In 1986-1987 he was the first Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation's Computing Directorate. He led the National Research and Education Network (NREN) panel that became the NII/GII, and was an author of the first High Performance Computer and Communications Initiative.  He continues to be interested in policies and technology that affects its development as evidenced by his writings since 1987. Beginning in 1987 he sponsored "The ACM Gordon Bell Prize" for Parallelism administered by a committee from the annual ACM/IEEE Conference on Supercomputing.

Bell has authored books and papers about computer structures and start-up companies. In April 1991, Addison-Wesley published High Tech Ventures: The Guide to Entrepreneurial Success, which describes the Bell-Mason Diagnostic, for analyzing new ventures. His first book, Computer Structures, with Allen Newell was published in 1970 by McGraw-Hill. Dan Siewiorek, Bell, and Newell, Computer Structures, was published as the second version in 1982 . See also a listing of Gordon's computers, projects, patents, books, videotaped lectures and papers.

Throughout his career, Gordon has been recognized in many national and international publications. A few recent articles about him include IEEE Spectrum, 2005 (1 MB compressed PDF), Fast Company, 2006 (6 MB PDF), The New Yorker, 2007 (1 MB compressed PDF), Scientific American, 2007 (3 MB compressed PDF), and the German edition of Der Spiegel, 2008 (728 KB PDF).

Gordon has long evangelized scalable systems starting with his interest in multiprocessors (mP) beginning in 1965 with the design of Digital's PDP-6, PDP-10's antecedent, one of the first mPs and the first timesharing computer.  He continues this interest with various talks about trends in future supercomputing (see Papers …presentations, etc.) and especially clustered systems formed from cost-effective “personal computers”.  As Digital's VP of R&D he was responsible for the VAX Computing Environment. In 1987, he led the cross-agency group as head of NSF's Computing Directorate that made "the plan" for the National Research and Education Network (NREN) aka the Internet.  The Supercomputing and the CyberInfrastructure page lists articles, memos, talks, and testimony regarding the various aspects of computing including funding, goals, and problems in reaching to the Teraflops in 1995 and Petaflops in 2010. He is a former member (2005-2008) of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC).

He is a founding board member of The Computer History Museum  at 1401 Shoreline, Mountain View, CA, established in 1999. The museum’s world-class artifact collection came from the former Computer Museum, Boston that he co-founded, 1979 with Gwen Bell that originated in 1975 with the now deceased Digital Equipment Corporation that became part of HP in the lat2 1990s. He became a fellow of the Museum on 22 October 2003.

He is on the boards and technical advisory boards of Diamond Exchange and The Vanguard Group that hosts five high tech seminars each year for leading edge organizations. He has been an angel investor and/or advisor to over 100 startup companies that currently include: MyCyberTwin chatbots for customer relations in the financial service industry, Platformation for bundled shopping, and Wine Country that hosts numerous web sites around the world. He is a member of the Sector Advisor Council of the ICT Division of Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

He is also a founder and director of the Bell-Mason Group supplying expert systems for venture development to startups, investors, governments, and intrapreneurial ventures as described in the book High Tech Ventures, by Bell and McNamara. The Bell Mason Diagnostic for startups and IntraVentures a.k.a. corporate ventures that is available through Diamond Consultants.  More recently, Heidi Mason and Tim Rohner wrote The Venture Imperative, published by Harvard Business School Press that describes the use of the model for corporate ventures.

Bell is a member of various professional organizations including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Fellow), American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow), ACM (Fellow), IEEE (Fellow and Computer Pioneer), the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (FTSE). His awards include: the IEEE Von Neumann Medal, Fellow of the Computer History Museum, the AEA Inventor Award for the greatest economic contribution to the New England region, the IEEE 2001 Vladamir Karapetoff Eminent Member's Award of Eta Kappa Nu, and The 1991 National Medal of Technology "for his continuing intellectual and industrial achievements in the field of computer design; and for his leading role in establishing ... computers that serve as a significant tool for engineering, science, and industry." View the videotaped presentation ceremony (Netshow @28.8 Kbps) by President George Bush in the Whitehouse Rose Garden. He received the 1995 MCI Communications Information Technology Leadership Award for Innovation.

Gordon Bell is a principal researcher in Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley. He continues to maintain an interest in startup ventures. Beginning in 1995 when he joined Microsoft, Gordon had started to focus on the use of computers and the necessity of Telepresence: being there without really being there, then. "There" can be a different place, right now, or a compressed and different time (a presentation or recording of an earlier event). In 1999 this project was extended to include multimedia in the home (visit Papers… presentations, etc.).

He puts all of his atom- and electron-based bits in his local Cyberspace.  It is called by MyLifeBits the successor to the Cyber All project.  This includes everything he has accumulated, written, photographed, presented, owns (e.g. CDs), and is acquiring via telephone, meeting capture, etc.. The project completed in 2007 and the final result is described in the book, Total Recall, with Jim Gemmell and published by Dutton.

Mr. Bell resides in San Francisco, CA and Sydney Australia (as permanent resident). His son Brigham lives in Boulder CO; his daughter Laura, lives in Hillsborough, NJ. Hobbies include or have included: biking (with occasional tours of France e.g. Provence, 1996 PowerPoint Album, and the Loire, 1997 PowerPoint Album; scuba diving; and skiing. Occasionally he goes fishing provided there is “catching e.g. San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, Alaska at the Yes Bay Lodge, Ketchikan Alaska... Fishing at the Yes Bay Lodge or 3.7 MByte PowerPoint. Note Yountville, CA balloon ride in the fall of 2002. Here is a short (3.6 MB) AVI clip of his Ghan train ride from Darwin to Adelaide.

Portrait by Bacharach, 600 resolution, 1 MB in size

Gordon with Camwear, 300 resolution, 1.8 MB in size

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