Jay W. Forrester Biography (1918-)


Forrester was born in Anselmo, Nebraska. He received his degree in electricalengineering from the University of Nebraska and later moved to Massachusettsto work on government-related research projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the projects he worked on was the developmentof a naval flight simulator for training and testing new aircraft. In 1944, convinced that a digital computer would be of greater benefit than a flight simulator, Forrester decided to expand the scope of the naval assignment to create WHIRLWIND, a general-purpose digital computer. Appointed by the United States Navy as manager of WHIRLWIND, Forrester headed the project for almost twelve years. While working on WHIRLWIND, Forrester had to overcome shortcomings in the memory storage system, which was slow, expensive and unreliable. WHIRLWIND required great speed and reliability to process air-defense information and transmit weapons instructions. Forrester realized that the available memory systems would be inadequate and began to research new storage methods, first working with vacuum glow discharge, but later dropping that research because the system was still unreliable. In 1949 Forrester noticed that when electricity passed through wires containing magnetized iron rings, the rings retained their magnetized "on" or "off" signals. Based upon this observation, hedeveloped magnetic core memory , which offered a low-cost, reliable method to select stored information at speeds of a few microseconds. Magnetic core memory became the dominate form of primary memory storage for two decades and was implemented on WHIRLWIND with great success. In the late 1940s, naval money became scarce and the United States Air Force stepped in with additional funding to complete the WHIRLWIND project. Finally in 1951, eight years and nearly $5 million dollars later, WHIRLWIND became operational. WHIRLWIND was responsible for several " firsts" in computer processing, including the first experiments involving teleprocessing and the first use of a conversational graphics terminal. Forrester's staff implemented the first use of marginal errorchecking on WHIRLWIND, which allowed the computer to identify failing components before they completely crashed. The WHIRLWIND project is considered to have been a major catalyst in the development of computers in the United States. In 1952, following the completion of WHIRLWIND, Forrester headed the digital computer division of the Lincoln Laboratory, developing the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system for air defense. He also began work on WHIRLWIND II, but gave up the project in 1956 to become professor of industrial management at the Alfred P. Sloan School of Management at MIT. In 1961 Forresterpublished Industrial Dynamics, which showed new ways to understand the growth and stability of socio-economic systems. Although it is lesser known than his other accomplishments, Forrester developed a World Dynamics computer simulation program in the 1970s, which tracked five fundamental quantities: population, pollution, food production, industrialization and consumption of resources. The program aimed to forecast the future of world civilization and resources. The results were not encouraging. According to his computer program, within less than 100 years humans would have consumed most of the earth's nonrenewable resources, at which time civilization would begin to disintegrate. This outcome caused much furor among the scientific community. However, in theyears following, other researchers pointed out fundamental flaws in the dataand came to regard the program as unrealistic.

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