Thinking Machines Corporation


Thinking Machines Corporation was a supercomputer manufacturer and artificial intelligence (AI) company, founded in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1983 by Sheryl Handler and W. Daniel "Danny" Hillis to turn Hillis's doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on massively parallel computing architectures into a commercial product named the Connection Machine. The company moved in 1984 from Waltham to Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, close to the MIT AI Lab. Thinking Machines made some of the most powerful supercomputers of the time, and by 1993 the four fastest computers in the world were Connection Machines. The firm filed for bankruptcy in 1994; its hardware and parallel computing software divisions were acquired in time by Sun Microsystems.
On the hardware side, Thinking Machines produced several Connection Machine models (in chronological order): the CM-1, CM-2, CM-200, CM-5, and CM-5E. The CM-1 and 2 came first in models with 64K (65,536) bit-serial processors (16 processors per chip) and later, the smaller 16K and 4K configurations. The Connection Machine was programmed in a variety of specialized programming languages, including *Lisp and CM Lisp (derived from Common Lisp), C* (derived by Thinking Machines from C), and CM Fortran. These languages used proprietary compilers to translate code into the parallel instruction set of the Connection Machine. The CM-1 through CM-200 were examples of single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) architecture, while the later CM-5 and CM-5E were multiple instruction, multiple data (MIMD) that combined commodity SPARC processors and proprietary vector processors in a fat tree computer network.
All Connection Machine models required a serial front-end processor, which was most often a Sun Microsystems workstation, but on early models could also be a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) VAX minicomputer or Symbolics Lisp machine.
Thinking Machines also introduced an early commercial redundant array of independent disks (RAID) 2 disk array, the DataVault, circa 1988.