Alan Kotok

Alan Kotok

Infobox Scientist
name = Alan Kotok

image_width = 260px
caption = Kotok speaking in Boston in 2004. Photo: Richard Ishida
birth_date = birth date|1941|11|9|df=y
birth_place = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
death_date = death date and age|2006|5|26|1941|11|9|df=y
death_place = Cambridge, Massachusetts
residence =
field = computer science
work_institution = Digital Equipment Corporation, World Wide Web Consortium
alma_mater = Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clark University
known_for = World Wide Web Consortium, Digital Equipment Corporation, Spacewar!, computer chess
spouse = Judith Kotok

:"This article is about Alan Kotok who was associate chair of W3C. Alan B. Kotok who is the managing editor of Science Careers is also called Alan Kotok."

Alan Kotok (November 9 1941May 26 2006) was an American computer scientist. He was known for his contributions to the Internet and World Wide Web through his work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to computer engineering through his work at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and to gaming for his work on computer game and computer chess programs built at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Kotok recorded a video oral history at the Computer History Museum in 2004. Kotok also appears in cite book
last = Levy
first = Steven
title = Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
url =
year = Updated 2 January, 2001
publisher = Penguin (Non-Classics)
id = ISBN 0-1410-0051-1
] by Steven Levy.

Kotok was born in 1941 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniacite paper | author=Kotok, Alan | title=Oral History of Alan Kotok | publisher=Computer History Museum | date=15 November2004 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01|format=PDF] though his family lived in Vineland in southern New Jersey. He was an only child. By age 3, Kotok survived an inquiry into an electrical outlet with a screwdriver, and by age 6, he could build and wire household lamps.cite news | last=Marquard | first=Bryan | title=Alan Kotok; he tred vanguard of computers with brilliance, wit | work=The Boston Globe | publisher=The New York Times Company | date=6 June2006 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] Kotok learned model railroading at his father's hardware store. Kotok skipped two grades and started college at age 16.cite news | last=Markoff | first=John | title=Alan Kotok, 64, a Pioneer In Computer Video Games | work=The New York Times | date=3 June2006 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

MIT days

At MIT, Kotok earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering.cite web | title=W3C Folio | year=1999 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01|format=PDF] He had influential teachers including Jack Dennis and John McCarthy. Kotok was a member of the Signals and Power Subcommittee of the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) which he joined soon after starting college in 1958.

While a graduate student and member of TMRC, Dennis introduced his students to the TX-0 on loan to MIT indefinitely from Lincoln Laboratory. In the spring of 1959, McCarthy taught the first course in programming MIT offered to freshmen.gutenberg|no=729|name=Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution "by Steven Levy'] Outside classes, David Gross, Kotok, Peter Samson, Robert A. Saunders and Robert A. Wagner, all friends from TMRC, reserved time.cite video | people=Kotok, Alan | year=2006 | url = | title = The Mouse That Roared: PDP-1 Celebration Event Lecture 05.15.06 | medium = Google Video | location=Mountain View, CA, USA | publisher=Computer History Museum | accessdate=2006-07-01. Kotok begins at 0:53:50.] They were able to use the TX-0 as a personal, single-user tool rather than a batch processing system, thanks to Dennis, faculty advisors and John McKenzie, the operations manager.cite web | author=TX-0 alumni reunion | title=The Computer Museum Report, Volume 8 | | date=Spring 1984 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

In September 1961cite web | title=Letter to Professor Peter Elias | author=Olsen, Kenneth H. | date=15 September display. Dennis oversaw the PDP-1 lab, located next door to the TX-0. Students from TMRC worked as support staff, programming the new computer.


Classmates Elwyn Berlekamp, Kotok, Michael Lieberman, Charles Niessen and Wagner began to develop McCarthy's IBM 704 chess-playing program in 1959. Kotok describes their work in MIT Artificial Intelligence Project Memo 41 and his bachelor's thesis. By the time "the chess group" graduated in 1962, their program played chess "comparable to an amateur with about 100 games experience" on an IBM 7090.cite web | last=Kotok | first=Alan | title=MIT Artificial Intelligence Memo 41 | date=undated, XHTML 3 December, 2004 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] cite paper | last=Kotok | first=Alan | title=A Chess Playing Program for the IBM 7090 Computer | publisher=Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Electrical Engineering | year=1962 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Although they came to know a great deal about the game, neither Kotok nor McCarthy were known as chess players — later in life Kotok loved bridge.cite web | title=W3C mailing list archive for | publisher=W3C | year=2006 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] Mikhail Botvinnik, who was the world champion of chess three times, wrote in his book "Computers, Chess and Long-Range Planning" that the Kotok-McCarthy program's "rule for rejecting moves was so constituted that the machine threw the baby out with the bath water."cite journal | author=Abramson, Bruce | title=Control Strategies for Two-Player Games | journal=ACM Computing Surveys, Vol. 21, No. 2 | month=June | year=1989 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-02 | format=Dead link|date=May 2008] The program drew criticism from Richard Greenblattcite paper | author=Greenblatt, Richard D. | title=Oral History of Richard Greenblatt | publisher=Computer History Museum | date=12 January2005 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01|format=PDF] and more recently from Hans Berliner.cite paper | author=Berliner, Hans | title=Oral History of Hans Berliner | publisher=Computer History Museum | date=7 March2005 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-02|format=PDF] Yet in his [ Computer Chess History] , Bill Wall calls the MIT program the first to play chess credibly. During the Cold War, Kotok-McCarthy played the best Russian chess program in the first match between computer programs.cite video | people=McCarthy, John | url = | title = The History of Computer Chess: An AI Perspective | date = 8 September2005 | medium = Google Video | location=Mountain View, CA, USA | publisher=Computer History Museum | accessdate=2006-07-01. McCarthy begins at 0:43:48.] cite paper | author=Brudno, Michael | title=Competitions, Controversies, and Computer Chess | date=May 2000 | url= | format = PDF | accessdate=2006-07-01]


Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell and Wayne Wiitanen conceived the computer game Spacewar! while working at Harvard University in 1961. Inspired by Marvin Minsky's "Three Position Display" they called the "Minskytron", with their MIT classmates Dan Edwards, Kotok, Stephen D. Piner, Samson and Saunders, they had the first version running by early 1962. Coded by Russell, Spacewar! was one of the earliest interactive computer games.cite web | last=Graetz | first=J. Martin | title=The origin of Spacewar! | work=Creative Computing and Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games | date=August 1981, Spring 1983 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok did not write any of the Spacewar! code. He did travel to DEC to obtain the sine-cosine routinecite web | author=Digital Equipment Corporation | title=Sine-cosine Routine | date=31 December 1962 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-20] that Russell needed. Graetz credited Kotok and Saunders with building the game controllers which allowed two people to play side by side. Asked if the group invented the joystick, Kotok said no. NASA or some other organization had similar control boxes at the time. cite web
last=Haas | first=Hugo
title=Goodbye, Alan
publisher=W3C archive
date=4 June, 2006

Samson replaced what were at first random points of light with Expensive Planetarium. Edwards sped up the display of the spaceships and added the central star, the center of gravity. Graetz added hyperspace.

From a printout that Graetz provided, Barry Silverman, Brian Silverman and Vadim Gerasimov transcribed the source code and built a Spacewar! Java applet in 1999.cite web | author=Gerasimov, Vadim | title=Vadim Gerasimov - Projects | month=August | year=2006 | url= | accessdate=2006-09-29] The applet is available at Gerasimov's web site where one can play Spacewar [ in a Web browser] .

Stewart Brand and Annie Leibovitz celebrated the game's success in "Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums" in "Rolling Stone" magazine on or near Spacewar!'s 10th birthday in 1972. In the "New York Times" in 2002 on the game's 40th anniversary, John Markoff interviewed the creators of Spacewar in " [ A Long Time Ago, in a Lab Far Away . . .] "


Edward Fredkin, at one time at BBN which was DEC's first customer for the PDP-1, McCarthy, Russell, Samson, Kotok and Harlan Anderson, and Gordon Bell on tape, met in May 2006 for a panel to celebrate the Computer History Museum's [ restoration of a PDP-1] .

Their presentations show that TX-0 and PDP-1 users wrote some of the earliest application software. Piner wrote Expensive Typewriter which enabled the group to operate the TX-0 and PDP-1 directly. Wagner wrote Expensive Desk Calculator. On a second PDP-1 in the physics department, Daniel L. Murphy wrote the TECO text editor, later used to implement Emacs. Samson wrote TJ-2, an early page layout program, and implemented the War card game. Collaboration on computing waveforms with Dennis on the TX-0 led to Samson writing the Harmony Compiler with which PDP-1 users coded music. Kotok and Samson worked together on T-Square, a drafting program that used a Spacewar! controller to move the cursor. Gross and Kotok built Expensive Tape Recorder.

Early PDP-1 users wrote programming software including an assembler translated from the TX-0 over one weekend in 1961. Kotok wrote the DDT online debugging program translated from the FLIT debugger for the TX-0. Kotok later wrote an interpreter for the Lisp programming language in TECO macros.

DEC days

In 1961 Kotok began at DEC writing a Fortran compiler for the PDP-4. He next worked on the PDP-5 instruction set. Part of a team led by principal architect Gordon Bell under Anderson who was vice president of engineering, Kotok was an assistant logic designer of the first commercial time-sharing computer, the PDP-6.cite web | title=Phil's PDP10 Miscellany Page | author=Budne, Phil | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] Beginning with the PDP-6, designed and delivered in 1963-1964 for scientific use, DEC machines had a 36-bit word length to accommodate artificial intelligence work in Lisp and to compare with IBM mainframe computers.cite web | title=Twenty Years of 36-bit Computing with Digital 1964-1984 | year=1984 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

In what may have been the first around-the-world networking connection, a PDP-6 at the University of Western Australia in Perth was operated from Boston in the United States via a telex link in 1965. DEC photographed [ Bell and Kotok at a PDP-6] .

Kotok became the principal architect and designer of several generations of the PDP-10, DECsystem-10 and DECSYSTEM-20. Bell, Thomas Hastings, Richard Hill and Kotok wrote that the DECSystem-10 accelerated the transition from batch processing to time-sharing and single-user systems.cite paper | author=Bell, C. Gordon, Kotok, Alan, Hastings, Thomas N., and Hill, Richard | title=The evolution of the DECsystem 10 | publisher=ACM | date=January 1978 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok was also system architect of the VAX 8600, known as Venus. Up to 4.2 times faster than the standard at the time, the VAX 8600 was the highest performance computer system in DEC history when it was introduced in 1984.cite web | title=VAX 8600: 1984 | work=DEC Timeline | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

In his 34-year career at DEC, Kotok held senior engineering positions in storage, telecommunications and software. As technical director of the Corporate Strategy Group, Kotok was instrumental in creating the Internet Business Group which advocated early adoption and integration of Internet and Web-based technologies.cite web | title=W3C Alumni | author=Kotok, Alan | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

DEC brought forth the AltaVista search engine, the Internet firewall, the Web portal, the Webcast and live election returns.cite web | title=Internet/Intranet: 1977-1997 | work=DEC Timeline | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] cite web | last=Stuart | first=Anne | title=Digital Rewired | publisher=WebMaster Magazine | month=June | year=1995 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] Through difficult times, DEC continued its lead in developing for the Internet and Web. But Kotok sought a direction different from the corporate strategy of the time that he felt consumed Web and Internet resources to sell DEC products like the Alpha server.cite web | last=Kotok | first=Alan | title=DEC Internet Business Group page | publisher=Richard Seltzer, B&R Samizdat Express | date=29 August2000 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] For one example, he saw a missed opportunity in Millicent, the micropayment system that could buy and sell Web content for fractions of a U.S. cent.cite web | title=Millicent: 1997 | work=DEC Timeline | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok was a corporate consulting engineer for DEC 1962–1997, W3C Advisory Committee representative for DEC 1994-1996, vice president of marketing for GC Tech Inc. 1996–1997, member of the Science Advisory Board for Cylink Corp., a consultant for Compaq, and a content advisor for the Computer History Museum.cite web | title=Exhibition Credits | author=Computer History Museum | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

At Berlekamp's suggestion, for nine months during the 1975-1976 academic year Kotok taught logic design at the University of California, Berkeley.

Kotok earned a master's degree in business administration from Clark University in 1978.cite paper | last=Kotok | first=Alan | title=Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Summary Sheet | publisher=Massachusetts Institute of Technology | year=undated]

DEC and GC Tech were early W3C members and were among the sponsors of the [ Fourth International World Wide Web Conference] (WWW4) in 1995 in Boston. Kotok coordinated a BoF on "Selection of Payment Vehicle for Internet Purchases" on April 7, 1997 at WWW6 in Santa Clara, California.cite paper | author=Khare, Rohit | title=W3C at WWW6 | publisher=W3C | year=1999 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] In La Jolla, California, he presented "Micropayment Systems" to the Electronic Payments Forum in 1997.cite web | title=Meeting Report | publisher=Electronic Payments Forum | month=January | year=1997 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]


CSAIL in 2006. Photo: Ralph R. Swick
While at DEC Kotok recognized the Web's potential, and went on to help found the World Wide Web Consortium. Early in 1994 in Zürich, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee had met with Michael Dertouzos to discuss starting a new organization at MIT.cite web | title=How It All Started | author=Berners-Lee, Tim | date=1 December2004 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] In April 1994, Kotok, Steve Fink, Gail Grant and Brian Reid from DEC travelled to CERN in Geneva to speak with Berners-Lee about the need for a consortium to create open standards and to coordinate Web development. Berners-Lee mentions the pivotal meeting with DEC in "Weaving the Web".Harvard reference | Surname1=Berners-Lee | Given1=Tim | Surname2=Fischetti | Given2=Mark | Title=Weaving the Web: Origins and Future of the World Wide Web | Publisher=HarperCollins | Page=77-78 | Year=1999 | URL= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok joined W3C as associate chairman in May 1997.

Kotok recruited hundreds of W3C members and represented their interests. He managed the W3C host site at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) where he was a research scientist. He headed the worldwide W3C Systems and Web Team who serve the millions of pages and resources in the W3C Web site and its mailing list archives.

Kotok managed contractual relations with W3C hosts, member organizations and offices. He helped to establish new W3C offices in India and China. He worked with the W3C management team, the W3C Advisory Board and an internal task force to reduce membership fees in developing countries. Kotok chaired Patent Advisory Groups including one for HTMLcite web | author=W3C | title=HTML Patent Advisory Group (PAG) Public Home Page | date=23 September2003 to 22 March2004 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01] and was a major contributor to the W3C Patent Policy.cite web | author=W3C | title=W3C Patent Policy | date=20 May2003 to 5 February2004 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok briefly led the Technology and Society domain which at the time consisted of W3C activity on digital signatures, electronic commerce, public policy, PICS, RDF metadata, privacy, and security.cite web | title=Technology and Society | author=Kotok, Alan | month=April | year=1998 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]


Kotok lived in the United States in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Cape May, New Jersey with his wife Judith Kotok who was a choir director and piano teacher. They were fond of 16th and 17th century music and pipe organs. The Kotoks photographed their tour of historic organs in Germany in 2004. At the time of her death in 2005, Judie Kotok was on the faculty of the Longy School of Music and directed the annual [ Youth Choir Week] held in Cape May by the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. Alan functioned as the resident videographer at the event. Judie Kotok co-founded Tech Squares at MIT in 1967. Kotok had a daughter, Leah Kotok, a stepdaughter, Frederica Beck, and a stepson, Daryl Beck.cite web | title=Kotok Family Home Page | date=undated | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01]

Kotok died of an apparent heart attack on 26 May, 2006. He passed away at home in Cambridge.



*cite web
last=Wright | first=Sarah H.
title=Alan Kotok, 64, created joystick
publisher=MIT News Office
date=13 June, 2006

* [ Kotok Family Home Page]



:* particularly cite web | author=Computer History Museum | title=Section 2.4: Opening Moves: Getting Going | month=September | year=2005 | url= | accessdate=2006-07-01


ee also

* Gordon Bell
* Elwyn Berlekamp
* Digital Equipment Corporation
* Kotok-McCarthy
* World Wide Web Consortium

External links

* [ Kotok Family Home Page]
* [ World Wide Web Consortium] (W3C)
* [ MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory] (CSAIL)
* [ The Mouse That Roared: PDP-1 Celebration Event] panel, 15 May, 2006.

NAME=Kotok, Alan
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American computer scientist
DATE OF BIRTH=9 November 1941
PLACE OF BIRTH=Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
DATE OF DEATH=26 May 2006
PLACE OF DEATH=Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

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