Dartmouth Celebrates 50th Birthday of BASIC

In 1964, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz produced the first version of the programming language Dartmouth BASIC.

In 1964, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz produced the first version of the programming language Dartmouth BASIC.

Fifty years ago, on May 1, 1964 at around 4:00AM, Dartmouth faculty John G. Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, along with a number of Dartmouth undergraduate research assistants, successfully completed the creation of the Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) computer language. Half a century later, the Office of the Provost, the Department of Computer Science at Dartmouth, and the William H. Neukom Institute for Computational Science sponsored and organized an all day event – “BASIC @ 50” – to celebrate Dartmouth’s historical contribution to personal computing. The event, held yesterday, April 30th, was comprised of three parts.

The first part of the event, titled “The Past” and held at the Hood Auditorium, was a screening of the rather appropriate documentary film “The Birth of BASIC.” Created by filmmakers Bob Drake and Mike Murray and Professor Dan Rockmore, the informative and rather comedic film was about the role of John Kemeny and numerous other Dartmouth faculty and undergraduates in the creation of BASIC and the struggles and challenges these early computer scientists at the College faced. After the film ended, a panel featuring Emeritus Professor Thomas Kurtz, Jenny Kemeny ’76, computing historians, and other Dartmouth alumni involved with the creation of BASIC held a discussion and Q&A session with the audience.

The second part of the event, titled “The Present” and held at the top of the Hop, was an interactive exhibition of examples of ongoing research projects by the students of Dartmouth’s Computer Science Department. Exhibited student projects included an interactive mini-hovercraft, new mobile apps, and other computer science and digital arts projects.

The three part even concluded with a segment titled “The Future.” Held at Moore Theater, “The Future” hosted an accomplished panel of technology, computer science, and futurology experts. The topic was regarding what the next 50 years of computing might hold. The panel featured Michael T. Jones, chief technology advocate at Google; Brian David Johnson, futurist at Intel; and Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. A Q&A session with the audience followed.

The event was widely considered a success by its attendees. And as enrollment in Dartmouth’s Computer Science 1 class broke a new record of almost 300 students this term, computer science at Dartmouth appears to be entering a new stage of popularity and achievement.