[SIGCIS-Members] Raymond Dudley, unsung inventor of parallel processing and digital spreadsheet?

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Tue Apr 21 10:41:02 PDT 2015

As we saw with a certain other neglected genius inventor and website
builder, there's a difference between creating a particular system and
inventing a technology.

I do recall from when I was growing up the appearance of "chess computers"
in which a microprocessor was built into a chess board and the system would
sense moves made by humans and respond to them. As graphics got better and
people became more use to looking at screens they seem to have faded away
again. According to Wikipedia, the "Chess Challenger" line was sold from in
1977 onwards, so Dudley's claimed date certainly predates commercial
availability of these devices.

So if Dudley did what Janet describes in 1973 (and a skimming his rather
confusing website I did not see a clear statement of what was novel or what
worked when) he might well have had the first computerized chess board.
Computer chess programs, of course, go well back before 1973. So the novel
thing would be using a physical chess board as the user interface. 1973
would be a few years too early to build the computer into the chess board,
so it makes sense that the idea might surface first with an external
minicomputer driving it.

Inventing the "parallel processor" and "electronic spreadsheet" not so much.
Parallel processing goes back to ENIAC, the SSEC, etc. and is older than
serial processing. Maintaining a matrix in memory goes back to the very
earliest digital computing applications.

One of his animated clippings with the heading "Program Power" quote a
Science report on a famous Bell Labs parallel chess computer called Belle.
Bell does have a Wikipedia page, which does not mention Dudley as an
inventor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_(chess_machine). As the site
consists mostly of scanned pages with no linking narrative it's not clear
what this is supposed to have to do with Dudley. Likewise a clipping on the
bankruptcy of Thinking Machines. So it's not clear what he is trying to
prove by collecting these clippings and arranging them as "chapters" in a
"book" that begins with his own chess board. It reminds me of a fascinating
infographic timeline on the history of email.


-----Original Message-----
From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Janet
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 10:23 AM
To: Sigcis
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Raymond Dudley, unsung inventor of parallel
processing and digital spreadsheet?

I got an odd letter recently from someone named Raymond Dudley, who claims
he invented a chess-playing computer in 1973. Apparently he thought that as
a member of the SHOT Editorial Committee, I was in a position to "correct
the historical record" by alerting the "scientific establishment" of this
"important breakthrough." He has a website at

The device is an electronic chessboard hooked up to a minicomputer. The
"digital spreadsheet" he refers to is the illuminated chessboard and a
corresponding program that keeps track of the state of each cell on the
board. Supposedly the program is implemented in parallel, though I think the
underlying processor is not. The chess pieces are electronically encocded so
that when they are placed on the board, the machine recognizes each unique
piece. The squares on the board will light up to indicate which moves a
given piece can legally make; the pieces themselves light up to warn when
they are in danger of being captured.  It's not clear to me from my brief
survey of the site whether the machine actually plays against the human
player or simply provides the player with useful information to aid them in
playing against another person. Dudley got a patent on the machine in 1983.

Anybody heard of this? He seems to have kept a lower profile than some of
our other cranks--er, unsung inventors. A google search for "Raymond Dudley
chess computer" only turned up his patent information.


Dr. Janet Abbate
Associate Professor, Science & Technology in Society Co-director, National
Capital Region STS program Virginia Tech www.sts.vt.edu/ncr

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