SDC: Q-32 Lisp, Lisp 2, and three more; Lisp 1.5 Primer

Lisp’s birth and infancy was at MIT, but it began spreading to other places when John McCarthy went to Stanford and other project members graduated and moved on. At about this time, a project began to develop a new language, Lisp 2, that would extend Lisp to include ALGOL-like syntax, type-checking, and numeric, string, and array data types. The project was a joint development of two “think tanks”, Information International, Inc. (III) System Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica, California.

The host computer for the Lisp 2 project was the AN/FSQ-32/V, a one-of-a-kind prototype built by IBM for the Air Force as a potential replacements for the SAGE AN/FSQ-7. Before the Lisp 2 project began, an innovative compiler-only implementation of Lisp 1.5 on the Q-32 was done by Robert Saunders and his colleagues.

Through the kindness of Jeff Barnett, who was one of central contributors at SDC, the History of LISP web site now includes scanned copies of the Lisp 2 source code (with annotations by Jeff) and a number of documents, including the complete TM-3417 series documenting a planned (but not completed) port to the IBM System/360. A few other early memos were previously available online as MIT Project Mac memos. Additional memos will be soon be available via the Stoyan collection.

After the Lisp 2 project was terminated, the Q-32 at SDC was replaced with an IBM System/360. The researchers still wanted to use Lisp, so Jeff Barnett and Bob Long implemented a Lisp 1.5 for the System/360. Again, Jeff loaned a copy of the original manual and also wrote new notes.

Speech understanding was a major research area for many people at SDC, including Jeff. As building blocks for the speech research, he worked on two more Lisp or Lisp-like systems:

  1. A small Lisp for the Raytheon 704 used for speech capture and low-level processing.
  2. The Crisp Lisp 2-like system for the IBM System/370.

Jeff has provided modern notes for both, and for Crisp both the original documentation as well as slides from a recent talk he gave.

Finally, another offshoot of the Lisp 2 project is the book LISP 1.5 Primer by Clark Weissman. It began as a tutorial to help SDC researchers learn Lisp, and in 1967 was published as a book by Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., of Belmont, California. The book has long been out of print and the copyright reverted to Clark; he has given his permission for a PDF of the book to be posted on the History of LISP web site.

Update 11/26/2010: Updated URLs to reflect reorganization of

2 thoughts on “SDC: Q-32 Lisp, Lisp 2, and three more; Lisp 1.5 Primer

  1. Are people looking at the old LISP code?

    Just last night I was looking at an assembly listing of APL’s shared variable processor dated May 1, 1972. I was looking for inspiration because I’m trying to find a way to explain how different things are today. It also has my father’s hand written notes and corrections, so it is special to me. I’m curious to know how many people look at these old things?

  2. Catherine,

    At least a few people are looking at the old LISP code, and the old FORTRAN code on a parallel web site, because they have succeeded in getting it running on simulators for the original IBM 704/709/7090 computers. In the case of LISP, this required using OCR and careful hand-checking, because no machine readable version was available.

    I think this is wonderful, but it is not the only justification for such preservation work. I hope in 500 years, when people look back to the invention of computers, they will be able to study some of the actual source code for the earliest systems and application software. So I am heartened to see the work of others around the world doing similar work. I’d like to encourage you to keep up your excellent work documenting APL’s history.

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