Revolution, BASICally

Kemeny and Kurtz

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the BASIC computer programming language. In the early hours of May 1, 1964, Dartmouth professors John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz activated the new language. Although only a handful of college students had access to that first trial, the vision of Kemeny and Kurtz was nothing short of revolution.

BASIC wasn’t the first English-like language. Fortran had been around since 1957. It wasn’t a fun language by any measure, but you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to use it. You just had to work for one. In this way, BASIC wasn’t too different, despite its promise of being “easy to learn” and “a stepping-stone for students who may later wish to learn one of the standard languages.” You still needed access to a computer, and in the 1960s that typically required engineering smarts. Not much of a coup.

But it was. Kemeny and Kurtz didn’t usher in an era where every kid would write software. But by lowering the entry requirements for programming, they advocated for a world where anyone could control computer resources. Getting access to the first BASIC system required acceptance into the Dartmouth engineering program. Today, you only need to flop down on your sofa, grab your iPad, and start poking at it with your fingers.

To find out more about one of the most popular software development language families used by businesses today, visit the BASIC fiftieth anniversary site at Dartmouth.

[Image Credits: Dartmouth College)]


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