[SIGCIS-Members] Raymond Dudley, unsung inventor of parallel processing and digital spreadsheet?
paul at mcjones.org
Tue Apr 21 12:59:07 PDT 2015
I read the patent, and did a brief investigation of the registry of the domain chessilluminated.com. As far as I can tell, the invention does not actually play chess. Through the lights that Janet mentions, it helps each player visualize where each piece can move and when a piece is in jeopardy. The implementation is apparently “hardwired” combinational (stateless) digital logic: some 1500 TTL chips, and lots of wire. So I wouldn’t call this a computer.
The person who registered the domain chessilluminated.com is named Lainey Smith. She ran an unsuccessful ($260 raised toward a goal of $150000) Kickstarter campaign last year with the goal of producing updated prototypes of the invention:
The proposal quotes an unnamed university researcher as expressing interest in an modernized version of the gadget for use in experiments as a possible treatment for visually-oriented individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
> On Apr 21, 2015, at 10:41 AM, Thomas Haigh <thaigh at computer.org> wrote:
> 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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