the Chief Computer
Kelly Gotlieb recalls the early days of computer science in Canada.
BoRn In 1921 in Toronto, Calvin “Kelly”
Gotlieb is known as the “Father of
Computing” in Canada. After receiving his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Toronto in 1947, Gotlieb
co-founded the university’s Computation Center the following year and
worked on the first team in Canada
to build computers. In 1950, he created the first university course on
computer science in Canada and the
first graduate course the following
year. Currently Professor Emeritus in
Computer Science at the University of
Toronto, Gotlieb is also known for his
work on computers and society.
You used to be editor-in-chief of this
I was editor-in-chief first of
Communications and then, later on, of the
Journal. When Alan Perlis started
Communications [in 1957], he asked me to
be the editor of the business section.
Then Perlis was elected president of
ACM, and the editorial board asked
me if I would be editor-in-chief. I think
I was editor-in-chief for two years because the editor-in-chief of the Journal,
Franz Alt, retired, and they asked me to
You’re still involved with the Acm,
most notably as co-chair of the Awards
I’ve been a continuous member of
ACM since 1949. I was also in IFIP [In-ternational Federation for Information
Processing] for many years. When IFIP
was formed, I went to Paris as the Canadian representative. Isaac Auerbach
asked if I would be president, but I
didn’t want to be. I’ve always said ad-
Kelly Gotlieb in a conference room at aCm’s
headquarters earlier this year.
ministration is an occupation where
the urgent preempts the important.
Let’s talk about your career. You com-
pleted your Ph.d. in physics at the uni-
versity of Toronto.
I got my Ph.D. in 1947. My Ph.D. is
classified because it was on secret war
work. It’s never been declassified, but
it’s really not a secret anymore. We put
radios in shells.
Soon, though, you became involved
with early efforts in computers.
Yes, they had formed a computing
team in the university and there was an
IBM installation with punched cards.
Eventually, the university set up something called the Computation Center. I
was too young to be the director, so they
gave me the title of chief computer.
They didn’t ask me, they just deposited this title on me.
In the 1950s, the computation center
purchased a computer made by ferran-
ti in England, a copy of the manchester
We got the Ferut in 1951. It was
the second computer ever sold in the
world. UNIVAC was the first.
Ferut was in a room about three
times the size of this conference room
[which measures 16’ x 16’]. It had
about 10,000 vacuum tubes, and three
or four would burn out every day. So,
the engineers would take over at night
and change the burned-out tubes, and
we would run it.
The machine was quite unreliable
at first. For example, if you multiplied
two numbers, you were advised to do it
twice, and if you got the same answer,
ok. If not, you did it a third time and
took the best two out of three to get
I remember all these articles in the
paper called it a “giant brain.” Well,
it was giant all right, but it was about
one-hundredth as powerful as your
laptop, maybe one thousandth.
Eventually, we got the Ferut working pretty well. I had a graduate student who was the chess champion of
Canada, so I decided we should see
if the computer could play chess. But
Ferut didn’t have enough storage to
play a whole game, so we only played
endgames—king and pawn endgames,
which are very
[con TInuEd on P. 119]
Photo Gra Ph by brIan GreenberG