“It had a switch. You could turn it on. You got a satisfying clunk. You could type a single character at it and it would type a little message back. It gave you a great feeling of power.”
- Steve Russell about the PDP-1
Born: 1937, Hartford, Connecticut
Steve Russell’s interest in computers began when his uncle, a Harvard professor, arranged a tour of the Harvard Mark I computer. Russell later attended Dartmouth College as a math major and after college turned to the new field of computers.
In the early 1960s, Russell began working with John McCarthy on the MIT Artificial Intelligence Project, where he hand-compiled the first two versions of the interpreter for the LISP programming language.
While at MIT Russell joined the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and was introduced to the PDP-1. Thrilled by its interactivity and inspired by some of his favorite science fiction movies and books, Russell and fellow programmers, Martin Graetz and Wayne Wiitanen, conceived of the two-player game “Spacewar!” for the PDP-1. Though Russell wrote the first version of the game in 1961, significant improvements were made in the spring of 1962 by Peter Samson, Dan Edwards and Martin Graetz. Spacewar! is considered by many to be the first two-player video game for a digital computer.
After leaving MIT, Russell worked for Harvard as a programmer and then moved to the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab where he helped implement the PDP-1 and the PDP-6 timesharing systems.
Since his university programming days, Russell has worked at a number of technology companies including DEC and two Silicon Valley video game startups. He currently works on programs to help embedded systems software and hardware development.