Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ivan Sutherland, the Screen Transformation and You

[Tom Duff pointed out to me that the MIT TX-2 and the MIT Whirlwind computer were not the same thing.  Whirlwind was used on SAGE (the semi-automatic ground environment), and it was the TX-2 computer that Dr. Sutherland used for Sketchpad.   I had not been aware of how closely the TX-2 resembled or was a model for the original DEC PDP-1.   Thank you Tom!]

Ivan Sutherland has won the Kyoto prize.   

Dr. Sutherland is known for many things, but perhaps the single thing that he did that is used billions of times a second is the method of creating a screen transformation from a 3D object by applying a 4x4 matrix transformation to the 3D coordinates. Most of the time when you are seeing a computer graphics image on a screen you are seeing an application of Ivan's work.  A matrix transformation like this is particularly amenable for implementation in hardware (just about anything can be implemented in hardware, it is true, but this is perhaps the most amenable to hardware implementation of the various algorithms one can use to create a screen transformation in a scalable way).

My favorite thing that he did is a user interface for a CAD design system he did as a graduate student at MIT on a TX-2 computer. The interface is better than 98% of all user interfaces you have the misfortune of using and it was written in machine code on a crazy primitive computer.  A friend at RAND has or had a 16 mm film.  I will try and see if I can not find it on the internet, or get it transferred and uploaded to the internet.  You will be amazed.

A picture of the Whirlwind is kept here because it is so cool looking.

I believe these are Selectron tubes.  A colleague of mine at RAND had one of these or something similar from the Johniac that we had at RAND long before I got there.   Again, this is related to the Whirlwind.

The TX-2 console used for early human-computer interface work

The TX-2 at Lincoln Laboratories

Read about the Kyoto prize, the Whirlwind and Ivan below.

The Kyoto Prize

The Whirlwind Computer

Ivan Sutherland

Tom Duff also sent the following two links.  The first is a collection of information about the TX-2, including Dr. Sutherland;s Sketchpad paper.  The second has information about the Whirlwind computer.

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