Ken Thompson

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Home * People * Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson [1]

Kenneth Lane (Ken) Thompson,
an American computer scientist and pioneer. Beside other things, best known for his contributions at the Bell Laboratories in creating the Unix operating system together with Dennis Ritchie, in 2011 awarded with the Japan Prize for their contribution [2][3].

Along with Joe Condon, Ken Thompson was creator of the chess entity Belle, the winner of the 3rd World Computer Chess Championship 1980 in Linz [4]. From the mid 70s until 2000, Ken Thompson worked on creating Endgame Databases of up to six pieces [5].


Chess Pioneers Mittman Newborn Marsland Slate Levy Shannon Thompson Truscott.c1980.102665753.lg.jpg

Chess pioneers in Sacher Hotel Vienna, Austria 1980: Ben Mittman, Monty Newborn, Tony Marsland,
Dave Slate, David Levy, Claude Shannon, Ken Thompson, Betty Shannon, Tom Truscott [6]

Valvo Mitman Newborn Thompson Hyatt.Dallas.1982.jpg

Mittman, Newborn, Thompson and Hyatt (right) at ACM 1982 in Dallas, Texas, 1982 [7]

Beal Thompson Newborn Botvinnik WCCC New York 1983.jpg

Beal, Thompson, Newborn, and Botvinnik at 4th WCCC 1983 in New York City [8]

Lazarov Thompson Donskoy KAISSA team.Montreal.jpg

Vladimir Arlazarov, Ken Thompson and Mikhail Donskoy 1992 [9]


Ken Thompson, born 1943 in New Orleans Louisiana, received a Bachelor of Science in 1965 and Masters degree in 1966, both in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, from the University of California, Berkeley. Thompson's Masters thesis advisor was Elwyn Berlekamp [10].

Bell Labs

Along with Dennis Ritchie, Ken worked on the Multics operating system before they joined Bell Labs, where Ken remained about a quarter of a century and realized all the mentioned achievements in computer science.

Further Contributions

Beside his contributions to Unix and computer chess at the Bell Labs, Thompson developed the B programming language, a precursor to Ritchie's C, and in 1992 together with Rob Pike the UTF-8, a variable length character encoding for Unicode.


As of December 1, 2000, Ken Thompson retired from Bell Labs to pursue flight instructing full time [11], which achieved honorable attention in the computer chess scene:

Quote by Jaap van den Herik in 2000 From Cognition to Perception [12]:

This issue also records changes in the Board of ICCA. Don Beal stepped down as a Secretary-Treasurer after many years of outstanding service. He is succeeded by Hiroyuki Iida, who is expected to realise an effective broadening of our scope. Besides Don's stepping down we saw the retirement of Ken Thompson. He left Bell Laboratories after more than a quarter of a century of research and will now spend his time on his hobby, teaching amateur pilots. We thank him for the outstanding contributions he made to the world of computer chess and will pay more attention to his many merits in a next (special) issue [13] [14] [15]. 


Since 2006 Ken Thompson has worked at Google Inc. in Mountain View, California as a Distinguished Engineer, and co-created Google's programming language Go [16].

See also

Selected Publications


1970 ...

1980 ...

1990 ...

2000 ...


External Links

Oral History


some talk about chess starts at about 46:35


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