Tamiko Thiel:

The Connection Machine

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Articles on the Connection Machines CM-1 & CM-2:


  • Thiel, Tamiko. "The Design of the Connection Machine"

    This is my most comprehensive, illustrated article discussing the theory, history and concepts behind the visual design of the Connection Machine. As product designer and artist I try to find visual forms that express the emotional meaning an object has for its creators and its users. With the Connection Machine, at a time in the early 1980s when computers were popularly viewed as boring technical objects, I wanted to find a form that expressed the excitement and sense of adventure of artificial intelligence researchers in their search to create machines that think. Following are various articles on the machine.

    1994: First publication:
    DesignIssues Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring '94, [ html (updated 2024) ] or [ original 1994 pdf]

    1994: pdf in Japanese in the journal
    InterCommunication Magazine, InterCommunication Center of the NTT, Tokyo, Japan, No. 8, Spring 1994. pp.128-135.

    2010: reprinted in the book:
    "The Designed World: Images, Objects, Environments," Editors: Richard Buchanan, Dennis Doordan and Victor Margolin, Ed. Berg, New York, pp. 155-166.

  • Steve Jobs was inspired by the Connection Machine, and all his products since then have beenn not just technically brilliant, but visually stunning.

    See my interview with Joanna Hoffman, marketing manager and Jobs "right hand" on the first Macintosh and on Jobs NeXT computer.

    Katharine Schwab then interviewed me in turn for this article for Fast Company:
    "The Female Supercomputer Designer Who Inspired Steve Jobs"

    Paola Antonelli, the curator who acquired the machine for MoMA, tweeted the article as well!

  • When the Connection Machine was still in use, supercomputer design was not a general interest topic. But even then, the machines were cult objects. Back in 1998 David Gelernter wrote:

    "There are, of course, first-rate designers at work today. There have even been heroes of computer design: The CM-1 and CM-2 parallel supercomputers of the 1980s, designed by a team headed by Tamiko Thiel, were elegant and fascinating. At Yale, visitors stopped by the machine room often to admire the thing just as sculpture."
    Gelernter, David. "Beyond the Grey Box,"
    ID Magazine, Vol. 45 #2, March/April 1998, page 60.

  • This is a short article discussing some of the images, historical and fictional, that formed our perceptions of machine intelligence and the computer as "electronic brain." "Machina Sapiens," Ylem Newsletter, vol.15: number 6

  • November 15, 2004:
    I gave a lecture at the MIT Stata Center, co-hosted by the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), where I was a research fellow in 2004, and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL.):
    "Finding Form for an Electronic Brain: the Connection Machines CM-1/CM-2" (announcement)
    (Or: "How the Connection Machine Got Its Blinking Red Lights")

  • 1992:
    This was a 2-page spread on the Connection Machine by Arimoto Masutsuga for the Japanese design magazine AXIS:
    "The Connection Machine: Let the Machine Speak for Itself," (pdf in Japanese and English)
    AXIS Design Magazine, Number 45, Tokyo, Japan, 1992, pp. 132-133.

  • 1988:
    AXIS Magazine did this interview with Gordon Bruce, one of the industrial designers for the Connection Machine CM-1/CM-2, with some of his design sketches for the machine:
    "Creating the Optimal Link Between Man and Machine: The Design Work of Gordon Bruce," (pdf in Japanese and English), AXIS Design Magazine, Winter1988.

Danny Hillis' technical writings on the Connection Machine:
  • Hillis, W. Daniel. The Connection Machine, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., 1985

  • Hillis, W. Daniel. "The Connection Machine," Scientific American, Vol. 256, June 1987, pp. 108-115

A popular book by Danny Hillis for laypeople about his ideas on computing:
  • Hillis, W. Daniel, The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work, Basic Books, 1998

For an article on his projects after the demise of Thinking Machines Corp., see:
  • Bronson, Po. "The Long Now," WIRED Magazine, May 1998, pp. 116-123, etc.

MIT Professors David A. Mindell and Charles Leiserson use a case study on
Thinking Machines Corp. as part of their class material on engineering revolutions: