Lisp Machines

Lisp Machines

Lisp Machines, Inc. was a company formed in 1979 by Richard Greenblatt of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to build Lisp machines. It was based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By 1979, the Lisp Machine Project at MIT, originated and headed by Greenblatt, had constructed over 30 CADR computers for various projects at MIT. It was evident that it was time for the project to move from a university research to a company setting. Russell Noftsker, who had formerly been administrator of the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab some years previously and who had since started and run a small company, was convinced that computers based on the artificial intelligence language LISP had a bright future commercially. There were a number of ready customers who were anxious to get machines similar to ones they had seen at MIT.

Greenblatt and Noftsker had differing ideas about the structure and financing of the proposed company. Greenblatt believed the company could be "bootstrapped", i.e. financed practically from scratch from the order flow from customers (some of whom were willing to pay in advance). This would mean that the principals of the company would retain control. Noftsker favored a more conventional venture capital model, raising a considerable sum of money, but with the investors having control of the company. The two negotiated at length, but neither would compromise.

The ensuing discussions of the choice rent the lab into two factions. In February, 1979, matters came to a head. Greenblatt believed that the proceeds from the construction and sale of a few machines could be profitably reinvested in the funding of the company. Most sided with Noftsker, believing that a commercial venture fund-backed company had a better chance of surviving and commercializing Lisp Machines than Greenblatt's proposed self-sustaining start-up. They went on to start Symbolics Inc.

Alexander Jacobson, a consultant from CDC, was trying to put together an AI natural language computer application, came to Greenblatt, seeking a Lisp machine for his group to work with. Eight months after Greenblatt had his disastrous conference with Noftsker, he had yet to produce anything. Alexander Jacobson decided that the only way Greenblatt was going to actually start his company and build the Lisp machines that Jacobson needed, was if he pushed and financially helped Greenblatt launch his company. Jacobson pulled together business plans, a board, and a partner, F. Stephen Wyle, for Greenblatt. The newfound company was named LISP Machine, Inc. (LMI), and was funded mostly by order flow including CDC orders, via Jacobson.

Read more about Lisp MachinesFolklore About LMI, Decline, GigaMos Systems

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