Dartmouth Celebrates 50 Years of BASIC Computer Language (NPR)


May 1, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of BASIC, the computer language developed at Dartmouth by mathematics professor and future Dartmouth president John Kemeny, math professor Tom Kurtz, and a handful of Dartmouth undergraduates. As part of his project “Joe’s Big Idea,” NPR’s Joe Palca shines a spotlight on BASIC’s impact and legacy.

“The program BASIC that was created 50 years ago was the start of opening up the world of computing to anyone who wanted to try it,” says Palca. “BASIC was the starting point.”

Dan Rockmore, the William H. Neukom 1964 Distinguished Professor of Computational Science, says, “People who absolutely never would have engaged with the computer before were now engaging with computers on campus. It spread so quickly that the telephone company had to start putting in new trunk lines in Hanover so that everybody who wanted to get on the computer could get on the computer.”

Keeping BASIC simple was a priority, Kurtz tells Palca. “If they wanted to write a new program, they typed ‘new,’ and if they wanted to terminate their session, they typed ‘goodbye.’ Instead of ‘log off.’ Now what does log off mean? Come on, give me a break. So ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ instead of ‘log on’ and ‘log off.’ The whole point of this was to make computing easy.”

Listen to the full story, broadcast 5/1/14 on NPR.

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