Lynn Conway

Lynn Conway
Lynn Conway

Conway in 2006
Born January 10, 1938 (1938-01-10) (age 73)
White Plains, New York, U.S.
Occupation Scientist, inventor, engineer, activist

Lynn Conway (born January 10, 1938) is an American computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor, trans woman, and activist for the transgender community.

Conway is notable for a number of pioneering achievements, including the Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI design, which incubated an emerging electronic design automation industry. She worked at IBM in the 1960s and is credited with the invention of generalised dynamic instruction handling, a key advance used in out-of-order execution, used by most modern computer processors to improve performance.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]


Early life and education

Born and raised as a boy, Conway grew up in White Plains, New York. Although shy and experiencing gender dysphoria as a child, she became fascinated and engaged by astronomy (building a 6-inch (150 mm) reflector telescope one summer) and did well in math and science in high school. Conway entered MIT in 1955, earning high grades there. She attempted a gender transition in 1957-8, but this effort failed due to the medical climate at the time, and Conway left MIT in despair. After working as an electronics technician for several years, Conway resumed her education at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, earning her B.S. and M.S.E.E. degrees in 1962 and 1963.[9][10]

Early research at IBM

Conway was recruited by IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, New York in 1964. She was soon selected to join the architecture team designing an advanced supercomputer, working alongside John Cocke, Herbert Schorr, Ed Sussenguth, Fran Allen and other IBM researchers on the Advanced Computing Systems (ACS) project, inventing multiple-issue out-of-order dynamic instruction scheduling while working there.[1][11][3][4][5][6][7][8][12][13][14] The Computer History Museum has stated that "the ACS machines appears to have been the first superscalar design, a computer architectural paradigm widely exploited in modern high-performance microprocessors."[3][4][5][6][7][8][13][14]

Gender transition

After learning of the pioneering research of Dr. Harry Benjamin in transgender treatment and realizing that a full gender transition was now possible, Conway sought his help and became his patient. After suffering from severe depression over her situation, Conway contacted Dr. Benjamin, who agreed to counsel her and prescribe hormones. Under Dr. Benjamin's care, she began preparing for transition.[15]

While struggling with life in a male role,[15] Conway had been married to a woman and had two children. Under the legal constraints of the day, she was denied access to their children when she transitioned.[15]

Although she hoped to be allowed to transition on the job, IBM fired Conway in 1968 after she revealed to them that she was transsexual, and was planning on transitioning to a female gender role.

Career as computer scientist

On completing her transition in 1968, Conway took a new name and identity, and restarted her career in "stealth-mode" as a contract programmer at Computer Applications, Inc. She went on to work at Memorex during 1969–1972 as a digital system designer and computer architect.[15][16]

Conway joined Xerox PARC in 1973, where she led the "LSI Systems" group under Bert Sutherland.[17][18] Collaborating with Carver Mead of Caltech on VLSI design methodology, she co-authored Introduction to VLSI Systems, a groundbreaking work that would soon become a standard textbook in chip design, used in over 100 universities by 1983.[11][19] The book and early courses were the beginning of the Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI system design.[20]

In 1978, Conway served as visiting associate professor of EECS at MIT, teaching a now famous VLSI design course based on a draft of the Mead–Conway text.[15] The course validated the new design methods and textbook, and established the syllabus and instructor’s guidebook used in later courses all around the world.[21]

Among Conway’s contributions were invention of dimensionless, scalable design rules that greatly simplified chip design and design tools,[10][3][4][22] and invention of a new form of internet-based infrastructure for rapid-prototyping and short-run fabrication of large numbers of chip designs.[3][4][23] The new infrastructure was institutionalized as the MOSIS system in 1981. Since then, MOSIS has fabricated more than 50,000 circuit designs for commercial firms, government agencies, and research and educational institutions around the world.[24] Prominent VLSI researcher Charles Seitz commented that “MOSIS represented the first period since the pioneering work of Eckert and Mauchley on the ENIAC in the late 1940s that universities and small companies had access to state-of-the-art digital technology.”[23]

The research methods used to develop the Mead–Conway VLSI design methodology and the MOSIS prototype are documented in a 1981 Xerox report[25] and the Euromicro Journal.[26] The impact of the Mead–Conway work is described and time-lined in a number of historical overviews of computing.[23][27][28][29][30] Conway and her colleagues have compiled an online archive of original papers that documents much of that work.[31][32]

In the early 1980s, Conway left Xerox to join DARPA, where she was a key architect of the Defense Department's Strategic Computing Initiative, a research program studying high-performance computing, autonomous systems technology, and intelligent weapons technology.[10] [33]

Conway joined the University of Michigan in 1985 as professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and associate dean of engineering. There she worked on "visual communications and control probing for basic system and user-interface concepts as applicable to hybridized internet/broadband-cable communications".[10] She retired from active teaching and research in 1998, as professor emerita at Michigan.[34]

Transgender activism

When nearing retirement, Conway learned that the story of her early work at IBM might soon be revealed through the investigations of Mark Smotherman that were being prepared for a 2001 publication.[1] She began quietly coming out in 1999 to friends and colleagues about her past gender transition,[35][36][37] using her personal website to tell the story in her own words.[9] Her story was then more widely reported in 2000 in profiles in Scientific American[11] and the Los Angeles Times.[15]

After going public with her story, she began work in transgender activism, intending to "illuminate and normalize the issues of gender identity and the processes of gender transition." She has worked to protect and expand the rights of transgendered people. She has provided direct and indirect assistance to numerous other transsexual women going through transition and maintains a well-known website providing emotional and medical resources and advice. Parts have been translated into most of the world's major languages.[38] She maintains a listing of many successful post-transition transsexual people, to, in her words "provide role models for individuals who are facing gender transition." Her website also provides current news related to transgender issues and information on sex reassignment surgery for transsexual women, facial feminization surgery, academic inquiries into the prevalence of transsexualism[39] and transgender/transsexual issues in general.[40][41]

Conway has been a prominent critic of the Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence theory of male-to-female transsexualism that all transsexual women are motivated either by feminine homosexuality or autogynephilia.[42] She was also a key person in the campaign against J. Michael Bailey's controversial book The Man Who Would Be Queen.[43][44] Conway and others filed a complaint with Northwestern University accusing Bailey of practicing clinical psychology without a license,[45] and witnessed a complaint by a trans woman accusing Bailey of having sex with a research subject.[46] Benedict Carey wrote an article in which he observed that "the controversy had a life of its own on the Internet."[42] Northwestern University professor Alice Dreger published an article about the controversy, in which she concluded that the campaign against Bailey was an attempt to ruin Bailey's reputation and career by making various false accusations against him.[44] Conway called Dreger's article "one-sided" and complained that its publication, and Carey's article, reflected pro-Bailey bias by the Archives of Sexual Behavior and The New York Times.[47]

Conway was a cast member in the first all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues, in Los Angeles in 2004,[48] and appeared in a LOGO-Channel documentary film about that event entitled Beautiful Daughters.[35][49] She has also strongly advocated for equal opportunities and employment protections for transgender people in high-technology industry,[2][50][51][52][53][54] and for elimination of the pathologization of transgender people by the psychiatric community.[55][56]

In 2009, Conway was named one of the "Stonewall 40 trans heroes" on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots by the International Court System, one of the oldest and largest predominantly gay organizations in the world, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.[57][58]

Home life

In 1987, Conway met her husband Charlie, a professional engineer who shares her interest in the outdoors, including canoeing and motocross.[15] They soon started living together, and bought a house with 24 acres (97,000 m2) of meadow, marsh, and woodland in rural Michigan in 1994.[15] In 2002, they were married.[12][35]

Awards and honors

Conway has received a number of awards and distinctions:


  1. ^ a b c Mark Smotherman. "IBM Advanced Computing Systems (ACS) – 1961–1969". 
  2. ^ a b “Embracing Diversity – HP employees in Fort Collins, Colorado, welcome Dr. Lynn Conway”, hpNOW, February 8, 2001.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Lynn Conway: 2009 Computer Pioneer Award Recipient", IEEE Computer Society, January 20, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Computer Society Names Computer Pioneers", IEEE Computer Society, January 20, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "IEEE Computer Society Video: Lynn Conway receives 2009 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award", YouTube, July 30, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c "Event: IBM ACS System: A Pioneering Supercomputer Project of the 1960's", Computer History Museum, February 18, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c "Computer History Museum Events: IBM ACS System: A Pioneering Supercomputer Project of the 1960's", Computer History Museum, February 18, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c "Historical Reflections: IBM's Single-Processor Supercomputer Efforts - Insights on the pioneering IBM Stretch and ACS projects" by M. Smotherman and D. Spicer, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 53, No. 12, December 2010, pp. 28-30.
  9. ^ a b Lynn Conway, "Lynn Conway's Retrospective Part I: Childhood and education," 9 February 2005.
  10. ^ a b c d Kilbane, Doris. (2003-10-20.) "Lynn Conway: A trailblazer on professional, personal levels." Electronic Design, via electronic Retrieved on 2007-09-24.
  11. ^ a b c Paul Wallich, "Profile: Lynn Conway—Completing the Circuit," Scientific American Magazine, December 2000.
  12. ^ a b Dianne Lynch, "The Secret Behind 'Project Y': One Woman’s Success Story — 'What Works, Works'",, November 29, 2001.
  13. ^ a b Mark Smotherman. "IBM ACS Reunion – February 18, 2010, in California". 
  14. ^ a b "The IBM ACS System: A Pioneering Supercomputer Project – Video". 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Hiltzik, Michael A. (2000-11-19.) "Through the Gender Labyrinth.". Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, page 1. (Free reprint. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.)
  16. ^ Lynn Conway's Retrospective PART III: Starting Over
  17. ^ Adele J. Goldberg (September 1980). "About This Issue...". ACM Computing Surveys 12 (3): 257–258. doi:10.1145/356819.356820. ISSN 0360-0300. 
  18. ^ Rob Walker and Nancy Tersini (1992). Silicon Destiny: The Story of Application Specific Integrated Circuits and LSI Logic Corporation. Walker Research Associates. ISBN 0963265407. 
  19. ^ Gina Smith,"Unsung innovators: Lynn Conway and Carver Mead: They literally wrote the book on chip design," Computerworld, December 3, 2007.
  20. ^ Paul McLellan,"The book that changed everything," EDN, February 11, 2009.
  21. ^ The MIT'78 VLSI System Design Course: A Guidebook for the Instructor of VLSI System Design, Lynn Conway, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, August 12, 1979.
  22. ^ Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark (2000). Design Rules: The Power of Modularity. MIT Press. ISBN 0262024667. 
  23. ^ a b c National Research Council (1999), Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research, National Academy Press (excerpt)
  24. ^ "The MOSIS Service – More than 50,000 designs in 25 years of operation", MOSIS Website, 2008.
  25. ^ THE MPC Adventures: Experiences with the Generation of VLSI Design and Implementation Methodologies, Lynn Conway, Xerox PARC Technical Report VLSI-81-2, January 19, 1981.
  26. ^ THE MPC Adventures: Experiences with the Generation of VLSI Design and Implementation Methodologies, by Lynn Conway, Microprocessing and Microprogramming – The Euromicro Journal, Vol. 10, No. 4, November 1982, pp 209-228.
  27. ^ Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, by Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research and Development, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1995, page 75.
  28. ^ Figure II.13: Technological Developments in Computing”, in Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1995, page 75.
  29. ^ Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's Information Infrastructure, by Committee to Study High Performance Computing and Communications: Status of a Major Initiative, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1995, page 20.
  30. ^ Figure 1.2: Government-sponsored computing research and development stimulates creation of innovative ideas and industries”, in Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's Information Infrastructure, National Academy Press, 1995, page 20.
  31. ^ The VLSI Archive, by Lynn Conway, Electronic Design News, June 3, 2009.
  32. ^ Lynn Conway's VLSI Archive
  33. ^ Dwight B. Davis "Assessing the Stragetic Computing Initiative," by Dwight B. Davis High Technology, Vol. 5, No. 4, April 1985.
  34. ^ a b "Lynn Conway awarded Emerita status at the University of Michigan", December 31, 1998
  35. ^ a b c “Beautiful Daughters Cast: Lynn Conway”, LOGO Channel, 2006
  36. ^ “Class Notes: 2002 Inductees: Here's how many of our 2002 Hall Of Famers enjoy their leisure time and how they still give back to society”, Doris Kilbane, Electronic Design, October 20, 2003.
  37. ^ "Secrets Are Out: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender engineers are no longer willing to hide their true selves" Jaimie Schock, Prism Magazine, American Society of Engineering Education, October, 2011, pp. 44-47.
  38. ^
  39. ^ Olyslager F, Conway L (2008). Transseksualiteit komt vaker voor dan u denkt [Transsexualism is more common than you think]. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies, Vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 39-51, 2008. (abstract in English)
  40. ^ "Profile: Lynn Conway," Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website
  41. ^ Biographies of famous LGBT people: Science: Professor Lynn Conway, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History Month website
  42. ^ a b Carey, Benedict (2007-08-21). "Criticism of a Gender Theory, and a Scientist Under Siege". New York Times. 
  43. ^ Conway, Lynn. "The Bailey Investigation:How it all began with a series of e-mail alerts". 
  44. ^ a b Dreger, A. D. (2008). The controversy surrounding The man who would be queen: A case history of the politics of science, identity, and sex in the Internet age. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 366-421.
  45. ^ "Evidence and complaints filed against J. Michael Bailey for practicing as a clinical psychologist without a license, and then subsequently publishing confidential clinical case-history information without permissions". April 6, 2004. 
  46. ^ "Documentation of a formal complaint about J. Michael Bailey's sexual exploitation of a research subject, and of Northwestern University's apparent decision to not investigate such egregious misconduct". December 11, 2003. 
  47. ^ Conway, Lynn. "Important updates on the Zucker-Dreger attacks on trans critics". 
  48. ^ VDay LA 2004 Commemorative Page, DeepStealth Productions, Los Angeles CA, 2004.
  49. ^ “Beautiful Daughters”, a documentary by Josh Aronson and Ariel Orr Jordan, LOGO Channel, 2006.
  50. ^ “Computer pioneer speaks from the heart about diversity: Transsexual talks at HP, CSU”, by Kate Forgach, Fort Collins Coloradoan, January 26, 2001.
  51. ^ “Chipping Away at Prejudice”, by Sarah Wildman, The Advocate, March 13, 2001.
  52. ^ “What's pride got to do with it?”, by Teri Warner, Employee Communications, Circuit for Employees@Intel, July 1, 2003.
  53. ^ “Why HR should wake up to the needs of transsexual employees”, by Christine Burns, Personnel Today, November 18, 2003.
  54. ^ “Another Milestone in the Journey: GI and E Added to EEO Policy”, Raytheon GLBTA NEWS, August – October 2005.
  55. ^ "Dr. Kenneth Zucker's War on Transgenders". Queerty. February 6, 2009. 
  56. ^ Chagmion Antoine (March 6, 2009). "Transgender Crusader – A professor at the University of Michigan is taking on the psychiatric community's ideas about transgendered people and mental illness". 365Gay News. 
  57. ^ a b "Trans Hero: Lynn Conway". Stonewall 40: Trans Heroes. International Court System. 2009. 
  58. ^ a b "Recognizing Outstanding Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Individuals in the Struggle for LGBT Equality". National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. June 10, 2009. 
  59. ^ "The 1981 Achievement Award – Lynn Conway, Carver Mead" by Martin Marshall, Larry Waller, and Howard Wolff, Electronics, October 20, 1981
  60. ^ Penn Engineering: The Harold Pender Award
  61. ^ IEEE EAB Major Educational Innovation Award, 1984.
  62. ^ IEEE Alphabetical Listing of Fellows
  63. ^ "Franklin Institute honors eight physicists", Physics Today, July 1985.
  64. ^ "Secretary of Defense Meritorious Achievement Award, May 1985", Meritorious Service Award, May 1985.
  65. ^ NAE Member Directory, Section 05. (year from The White House Office of the Press Secretary)
  66. ^ Society of Women Engineers: Achievement Award Winners.
  67. ^ President Clinton Names Lynn Conway to the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors", The White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 31, 1996.
  68. ^ "100 years of engineering excellence", Trinity Reporter, Trinity College, Hartford, CN, Winter 98.
  69. ^ "Electronic Design Hall of Fame – 2002 Inductees", Electronic Design, October 21, 2002.
  70. ^ "NOGLSTP to Honor Aberson, Conway, and Raytheon at Awards Ceremony in February", Press Release, National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, January 25, 2005.

External links

  • Lynn Conway's website – primarily written in English, but many articles are provided in other languages as well.

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