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EDA In 1964 – A Look Back At The First DAC

Comments(5)Filed under: EDA, Industry Insights, DAC, automation

The fact that the 46th annual Design Automation Conference (DAC) is coming up tells us that EDA has been around a lot longer than most people think. What were they talking about back in 1964, the first year for which proceedings are available? (This was technically the “second” DAC, although it wasn’t called that -- it was the first workshop hosted by the SHARE Design Automation Committee. At the “first” DAC, in Miami in 1963, the SHARE Design Automation Committee was formed.)

DAC founder Pat Pistilli, then chairman of the SHARE Design Automation Committee, introduced the 1964 workshop by talking about the history of SHARE (an organization of computer professionals founded in 1955) and the decision to launch a committee focused on design automation. “Design automation had grown, by that time [1963], from a searching infancy to a rapidly maturing adolescence as a result of increasing effort throughout industry,” he said. So it appears that electronic design automation was almost a teenager in 1963!

Keynote speaker August Bolino (affiliation not given) spoke about the benefits of “automation,” a controversial subject in those days. “As you know, there is very wide concern nowadays of what the computer is doing to man as an individual and a member of society,” he said. But Bolino ticked off the benefits. “We now have a 600 billion dollar economy, we have 70 million people employed, and per-capita income just passed the $2,500 mark. We have managed to take most of the drudgery out of work, we see a plethora of new products, and we have books which are being published by computers.”

Several papers were presented at the workshop. One IBM paper looked at “the problem of programming a digital computer to formulate and solve the algebraic and differential equations characterizing linear and/or nonlinear networks.” Another IBM paper describes an experimental program for computing the dc and transient response of transistor switching circuits of “arbitrary” configuration and size – all the way up to 20 transistors.

A paper authored by computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland (then from MIT) described Sketchpad, a graphical communications system that “makes it possible for a man and a computer to converse rapidly through the medium of line drawings. Heretofore, most interaction between man and computers has been slowed down by the need to reduce all communication to written statement that can be typed,” the paper abstract said. A separate IBM paper described a 3D version of Sketchpad.

An MIT paper presented the AED compiler, a “single language which can take either verbal or graphical form” for CAD applications. This sounds somewhat like an early attempt at ESL. Other papers discussed Autocard, an automated pc-board design system from Boeing; a computer program for space frame analysis; the impact of design automation on production test; graphic data processing; and geometric placement of units on a plane.

In a concluding remark, F.G. Fielding of North American Aviation noted that the approximately 250 attendees represent “a new, young unique industrial art.” I wonder what those 1964 workshop attendees would think of DAC today, with its 200-plus exhibits, giveaways, promotions, lunches, parties, wall-to-wall panels, and extensive technical program. Could they have foreseen what their “new, young unique industrial art” would become some 45 years later?  Proceedings of the 1964 SHARE Design Automation workshop are available in the ACM Library.

Richard Goering



By Brad Pierce on July 23, 2009
The keynote speaker, August Constantino Bolino, born 1922, was author of the 1961 textbook "Development of the American Economy", and numerous other books since. According to www.greenwood.com/.../August_C._Bolino.aspx , "he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics and Business at The Catholic University of America and Vice President for Research of the Ellis Island Restoration Commission."

By JL Gray on July 24, 2009
Fascinating post, Richard! Is anyone still involved in DAC that was around during those early years?

By Richard Goering on July 24, 2009
JL -- I understand that Pat Pistilli is still involved with DAC.

By Andy Frazer on July 27, 2009
Does anyone know when DAC started allowing vendor booths? Who were the vendors that first year?

By JL Gray on August 3, 2009
Andy - the answer to your question, and more background on the founding of DAC can be found by reading my recent interview with Pat Pistilli:
Richard - it was great seeing you last week. Thanks for pointing out that Pat was likely to be around at the conference!
Take care,

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