The acronym "MAC" is glossed variously as Multiple Access Computer, Machine Aided Cognition, Man And Computer, and in later years Minsky Against Corby (a joke based on two of the principal figures of two semi-competing research groups in the lab).
Project MAC was started on July 1, 1963 with initial funding from a two-million-dollar DARPA grant. Project MAC's original director was Robert Fano of MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). The program manager responsible for the DARPA grant was J.C.R. Licklider,
who had previously been at MIT conducting research in RLE, and would
later succeed Fano as director of Project MAC. Project MAC was
principally funded by DARPA and the National Science Foundation.
(Fano decided to call MAC a "project" rather than a "laboratory" for
reasons of internal MIT politics -- if MAC had been called a
laboratory, then it would have been more difficult to raid other MIT
departments for research staff.)
Project MAC's founders -- Fano, Fernando J. Corbato, and Marvin Minsky (with inspiration from former colleague John McCarthy), among others -- envisioned the creation of a "computer utility",
which would be as reliable a source of computational power as the
electric utility was a source of electrical power. To this end, CorbatÃ³
brought the first computer time-sharing system, CTSS, with him from the MIT Computation Center, using the DARPA funding to purchase an IBM 7094 for research use. One of the early focuses of Project MAC would be the development of a successor to CTSS, Multics, which was to be the first high availability computer system, developed as a part of an industry consortium including General Electric and Bell Laboratories.
In 1966, Scientific American
featured Project MAC in the September thematic issue devoted computer
science, which was later published in book form. At the time, the
system was described as having approximately 100 TTY terminals, mostly
on campus but with a few in private homes. Only 30 users could be
logged in at the same time.
In the late 1960s, Minsky's artificial intelligence
group was seeking more space, and was unable to get satisfaction from
project director Licklider. University space-allocation politics being
what it is, Minsky found that although Project MAC as a single entity
could not get the additional space he wanted, he could split off to
form his own lab and then be entitled to more office space. As a
result, the MIT AI Lab was formed in 1970,
and many of Minsky's AI colleagues left Project MAC to join him in the
new lab, while most of the remaining members went on to form the
Laboratory for Computer Science. Two professors, Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman,
chose to remain neutral --- their group was referred to variously as
Switzerland and Project MAC for the next 30 years, until the two labs
ultimately re-merged as CSAIL.
In later technical work, the Lisp dialect Maclisp was developed by Project MAC.
The portion of Project MAC that was renamed the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS), went on to do further ground-breaking work, including a significant role in the development of the Internet. It was generally significantly larger but less glamorous than the AI lab.
This picture was taken at Technology Square where MAC project was resided in spring 1973. The man who stands at middle is Prof. Saltzer. The left is me and the right is my colleague. I was 32 years old!
This is a brochure published by the MIT Lab for Computer Science in
1975, and gives a brief historical glimpse of our activities and faces
twenty years ago.
MIT has played an active role in the development of computer and
information related technology for more than four decades. Names
like Bush, Wiener, Shannon, and Forrester recall the differential
analyzer, the theories of communication, information and switching,
the Whirlwind computer and magnetic cores. More recently Project
MAC (now the Laboratory for Computer Science) was responsible for
another milestone in the development of computers: time-sharing.
The research currently being carried out by this leading Laboratory
is important and essential, as the computer field and its impact on
our everyday life continue to grow.
Dr. Jerome B. Wiesner
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Computers and Information Processing are already playing a major
role in present day society. Future developments in Computer
Science will surely continue to occupy an important part of MIT's
teaching and research activities. Thus, it is important that there
exist a broadly based laboratory in which faculty, students and staff
from the several schools join for the purpose of advancing Computer
Science and pursuing its most challenging applications.
Professor Walter A. Rosenblith
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ABOUT THE LABORATORY
The Laboratory for Computer Science is a Massachusetts Institute of
Technology interdepartmental laboratory, whose principal goal is
research in Computer Science and Engineering.
Founded in 1963 as Project MAC (for Multiple Access Computer and
Machine-Aided Cognition), the Laboratory developed the Compatible
Time-Sharing System (CTSS), one of the first timeshared systems in
the world, and Multics--an improved time-shared system that
introduced several new concepts. These two major developments
stimulated research activities in the application of online
computing to such diverse disciplines as Engineering, Architecture,
Mathematics, Biology, Medicine, Library Science, and Management.
Since that time, the Laboratory's objectives expanded, leading to a
broad front of research activities that now span three principal
areas. One of these is making programs more intelligent by
capturing, representing, and using specific knowledge: Examples are
the use of expert medical knowledge for diagnosis and drug
administration carried out by the Clinical Decision-Making Research
Group; the use of expert mathematical knowledge by the Mathlab
Research Group for an automated mathematical assistant; and the
use of knowledge in a specific domain in order to comprehend typed
natural language (English) in that domain.
A second main focus of Laboratory research is making sizable
improvements in the ease of utilization and cost effectiveness of
computing systems: The Automatic Programming Research Group strives to
reduce programming costs through the generation of inventory control
programs by other programs, on the basis of high-level descriptions of
desired activities, while another group strives for the same broad goal
through structured programming, i.e., by imposing constraints on the
programmer. Other examples include the automatic programming of
microcomputer systems from higherlevel, domain-specific languages for
the control of physical processes; and the study and synthesis of very
large data bases. Finally, the architecture of individual "personal"
machines and the organization of geographically distributed, more
complex systems of computers, is studied from the point of view of
exploiting the decreasing costs of processors and memories, improving
overall performance and reliability, protecting information, and
The Laboratory's third principal area of research involves
exploration and development of theoretical foundations in Computer
Science: The Theory of Computation Research Group strives to
understand ultimate limits in space and time associated with
classes of algorithms, while the Computation Structures Research
Group searches for a combination of appropriate programming
languages and machine architectures that insure trouble-free
asynchronous computation by several processors.
A substantial fraction of the Laboratory's research involves
applications outside computer science. Besides the clinical decision
and mathematics areas discussed earlier, Laboratory members
explore applications of computer technology in education; in
management; in the control of physical processes; in the
development of automated aids for composers of music and
architects; and in the detection of information from noisy
environments through the use of knowledge which is specific to that
information. In addition to pursuing these technical research goals
and applications, Laboratory members are interested in extracting
educational material from new research results and in examining the
societal impact of their work.
The Laboratory consists of 270 members--30 faculty, 80 support and
professional staff, 130 graduate and 30 undergraduate
students--organized into 13 research groups. The academic affiliation
of most of the faculty and students is with the Department of
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Other departments
represented in the Laboratory membership are Mathematics, Architecture,
Humanities (Music), and the Sloan School of Management. The Laboratory
research is sponsored by governmental and industrial organizations.
Professor Michael L. Dertouzos
Laboratory for Computer Science
<project> A project suggested by J C R Licklider; its founding
director was MIT Prof. Robert M Fano. MAC stood for
Multiple Access Computers on the 5th floor of Tech Square, and
Man and Computer on the 9th floor. The major efforts were
Corbato's Multics development and Marvin Minsky's
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In 1963 Project MAC
hosted a summer study, which brought many well-known computer
scientists to Cambridge to use CTSS and to discuss the
future of computing.
Funding for Project MAC was provided by the Information
Processing Techniques Office of the Advanced Research
Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense.
many of the ideas pioneered Multics are still evident in its offspring
- Unix and Windows. The reunion was an opportunity to reminisce and see
how the ideas have fared. While I enjoyed the talks on the technical
legacy of Multics we shouldn't forget that that purpose of Multics was
to create an information utility.
reason Multics has had such an impact on computing is that it was
designed to give normal people the ability to use computing as a
fundamental resource rather just use them as gadgets.
Project MAC was created in the 1960's as a multidisciplinary laboratory. JCR Licklider,
an acoustic psychologist was one of the founders. He was also
instrumental in funding the Arpanet which was the predecessor of the
Internet - Project MAC (later renamed Laboratory for Computer Science
and is now CSAIL) was a key
participant in both of these efforts. Though "MAC" itself was not an
acronym, it can be considered to stand for "Machine Aided Cognition" or
"Man and Computers".
the 1960's computers were very expensive and inaccessible. In order to
give (normal) people access to computing it was necessary to have them
share computers. Multics went a step further than this and took
advantage of the sharing to create collaborative environment.
was designed from the start as a highly secure computing environment.
This was important to the military but it was necessary for
collaboration. The goal was to create an environment that the users
could trust enough to use their working environment.
order to be able to trust the system you have to have confidence that
the system understands your intent. Who can read which files and who
can make changes. In Multics you simply needed to look at a file's
access list. In today's systems you can't quite be sure because there
are so many different paths and the systems don't make it easy to look
at the rules.
was constantly refined to make it understandable. Confusing or risky
features were fixed or eliminated. The system itself continuously
backed up files so you could feel confident that your files wouldn't
didn't make a strong distinction between developers and users - the
system allowed anyone to create new programs and services. Users
trusted the system but they didn't have to trust each other. You need
protection from well-meaning users as well as malicious ones. In fact,
you need protection from your own mistakes.
was an information utility that delivered computation as other
utilities deliver electric power. The user defined the applications.
personal computers are children of Multics. The systems are far more
capable but something has gotten lost in translation.
of earning our trust, today's systems require unbounded trust and
confuse security with isolation. We have an asymmetric model of user
experience - how do we make computers seem cute and cuddly rather than
nurturing a symmetric relationships in which all participants learn and
have good reason to distrust our computers - the systems are too
complex and thus unpredictable. The complexity makes it difficulty for
us to feel comfortable that the systems are doing what we intend and
they provide numerous opportunities for others to subvert our intent.
goals of Project MAC are even more pertinent today than they were when
were working on Multics. We are living in a connected computing society
yet act as if we are simply bystanders entranced by gadgets and at the
mercy of systems beyond our control. We cower behind firewalls instead
of embracing the possibilities.
can we revive the vision of Man<->Machine symbiosis and give
people the ability to be engaged rather than just being observers with
little choice beyond what ring tone to buy for our cell phones? We find
increased efforts for certification rather than getting the ability to
make our own informed choices.
to cite one technology example: Microsoft now has a program for
certifying device drivers because of the problems caused by bad
drivers. Rather than making it more difficult to support devices
Microsoft should create a safer environment for drivers. The current
driver architecture made sense on the slow computers of the early
1960's but today we must emphasize resilience and flexibility rather
than requiring that every element of the computing environment work
perfectly. If I buy a new scanner I should be able to put it on my
network rather than having to modify my operating system by installing
a special driver which has the ability to crash my system - or worse.
I don't understand what is happening with my computing systems then I
can't solve my own problem. Millions of people are at the mercy of the
operating system providers for protection against those who exploit the
vulnerabilities hidden within this complexity.
can act as our agents and leverage our creativity. This was the vision
of Project MAC. It's a vision that has been lost amidst the glitter of
gadgets and the fear of the shadows lurking in our inscrutable
History of computing > The age of Big Iron > Time-sharing and minicomputers > Time-sharing from Project MAC to UNIX
In 1959 Christopher Strachey in the United Kingdom and John McCarthy in
the United States independently described something they called
time-sharing. Meanwhile, computer pioneer J.C.R. Licklider at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began to promote the idea
of interactive computing as an alternative to batch processing. Batch
processing was the normal........
...the Soviet Union in 1957. ARPA researched interesting technological
areas, and under Licklider's leadership it focused on time-sharing and
interactive computing. With ARPA support, CTSS evolved into Project
MAC, which went online in 1963.
role of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
...processing power appeared to be focused on their program. For
Licklider, time-sharing was a problem in communication as well as
computing, and he funded time-sharing and networking research at MIT
(Project MAC), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and
the University of California, Berkeley. Licklider's goal was not simply
to develop time-sharing but also to develop a community of...
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