Japanese Computer Pioneers

Takahashi ShigeruTakahashi Shigeru

Takahashi Shigeru was born on April 1, 1921, and graduated from Electrical Engineering Department, School of Engineering of Keio Gijyuku University in September 1944. Three months prior to his graduation, he joined the Electrotechnical Laboratory, Ministry of Transportation and Communication of Japanese Government, and started his career of scientific research with ETL's Fifth Division, which later renamed as Materials Research. In 1953, Takahashi was awarded, by Keio University, a Degree of Ph. D. in Engineering for his paper entitled, "Research on Dielectric Properties of Electrical Insulating Materials and their Measurements"D His Ph. D. in Engineering was the very first one that Keio University has issued.

In 1954, Takahashi moved from Materials Research to Electronics Research Division that Wada Hiroshi had established within the ETL, and started to develop a computer with the use of transistors that Japanese makers were still in a preparation stage to produce. He together with Nishino Hiroji and others completed this computer named ETL Mark III in July 1956. This was the second stored program computer in Japan following Okazaki Bunji's Fujic, but the first transistor computer in Japan. ETL Mark III suffered from the lack of reliability of its transistors of point contact type that had been the only high-speed type when Mark III had been planned. As soon as reliable transistors of junction type became available, Takahashi together with Nishino Hiroji, Aiso Hideo, Matsuzaki Isokazu and others, based on the self-confidence acquired by speedy completion of Mark III, started to develop ETL Mark IV computer with the use of these transistors, and completed it in November 1957. The Mark IV technologies were transferred to NEC, Hitachi, and others, and helped Japanese computer industry develop.

At about this time Wada Hiroshi became interested in machine translation, but Mark IV did not have enough storage capacity for this purpose. Takahashi designed a computer dedicated for English-Japanese machine translation, and completed this machine named "Yamato" together with Watanabe Sadahisa and others in February 1959. Prior to this, Takahashi had been awarded a fellowship of the International Computation Centre (ICC), in which Yamashita Hideo had represented Japan as a Board Director, and was going to leave Japan in February 1959 to stay abroad about a year. On the other hand, Yamato that had been manufactured in a hurry had many misconnections, and it was only in the evening before his departure when Yamato translated for the first time an English sentence "I like music." into Japanese and printed the result in kana characters.

Takahashi visited various Universities and Companies related to computer technologies, including Cambridge University and the University of Illinois on the ICC fellowship, and returned to Japan at the end of 1959. He soon started developing a very high-speed computer ETL Mark VI, but did not participate in its completion because he left the ETL and joined Hitachi in 1962. While working for Hitachi, he was in charge of product planning in its computer business, and responsible in its early main computer products such as HITAC 8000, DIPS, and early M-series.

In 1980, Takahashi retired from Hitachi as Deputy General Manager of Computer Group, and was appointed Professor, University of Tsukuba. When Tokyo University of Technology was established in 1986, he was appointed Head and Professor of its Information Technology Department. After serving as its Vice-President several years, Takahashi was appointed President of Tokyo University of Technology in June 1996, and after completing three-year term, retired from the University in May 1999. He is a Professor Emeritus of this University. In July 1999, Takahashi was appointed a Director of the Board of Katayanagi Institute that governs Tokyo University of Technology. Takahashi has been active in the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ) since its inauguration. He served as its Director/ Senior Director in 1967/8 and 1970/1, and as its Vice President in 1979/80. Takahashi has been active also in Society's standardization activities, and served as its President of Information Technology Standards Commission from January 1988 to June 1994, and as the head of Japanese delegation to IEC/ISO JTC 1 that is an international standards organization for information technologies. After retired as its President, he has been the advisor to the President of this Commission. Takahashi has been interested in the history of computing, being the chairman of the special committee on the history of computing since 1981. For these services and achievements, Takahashi was awarded a prize in 1988 and an honorary membership in 1990 by IPSJ.

He died on November 22, 2005.

(As of Nov. 22, 2005)