Jay W. Forrester

Jay W. Forrester

1995 Fellow

For his perfecting of core memory technology into a practical computer memory device; for fundamental contributions to early computer systems design and development.

Biography

MIT Whirlwind magneticcore memory, ca. 1953
MIT Whirlwind magneticcore memory, ca. 1953

Jay Forrester was born near Anselmo, Nebraska, in 1918. He holds a B.S.. in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska (1939) and an M.S. from MIT (1945).

While leading the MIT Whirlwind computer project (1947-1953), Forrester developed the "coincident-current" magnetic core memory system, the first reliable, high-speed random access memory for digital computers. This invention was of monumental importance to the further advancement of digital computers and was used for main computer memory in most computers into the 1970s.

Whirlwind itself was groundbreaking. Under Forrester's strong leadership, the project, which employed 175 people and took three years to complete, was the first electronic, stored-program digital computer to operate in real-time. Whirlwind's innovations led directly to the multibillion-dollar U.S. continental air defense system known as sage, and to practical memory systems and high-speed digital design techniques for all computers.

In 1956, Forrester left engineering to join the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he led the development of the field of system dynamics in which computational techniques are used to analyze the social and economic behavior of corporations, cities, and countries.

Forrester's contributions have been widely recognized and include the U.S. National Medal of Technology (1989).