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Maurice V. Wilkes

Maurice Vincent Wilkes (born 26 June, 1913) is a highly prominent figure in the history of computing.

Wilkes studied at St. John's College, Cambridge from 1931 to 1934, then going on to complete his PhD in physics there, on the topic of radio propagation of very long radio waves in the ionosphere.

He was the first director of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, during the development of the EDSAC, one of the first digital computers, and arguably the first to internally store its program - the von Neumann architecture. In 1955, he developed the concept of microprogramming - the realization that the Central Processing Unit of a computer could be controlled by a miniature, highly specialised computer program in high-speed ROM. This concept greatly simplified CPU development. This concept was implemented in EDSAC II, which also used multiple identical "bit slices" to simplify design.

Wilkes is also credited with the idea of symbolic labels, macros, and subroutine libraries - basic developments that made programming much easier and paved the way for high-level programming languages.

Later, Wilkes worked on an early timesharing systems (what we would now term a multi-user operating system) and distributed computing.

Wilkes received the Turing Award in 1967, with the following citation:

Professor Wilkes is best known as the builder and designer of the EDSAC, the first computer with an internally stored program. Built in 1949, the EDSAC used a mercury delay line memory. He is also known as the author, with Wheeler and Gill, of a volume on "Preparation of Programs for Electronic Digital Computers" in 1951, in which program libraries were effectively introduced.

Wilkes retired from the computer laboratory in 1980. In 1956 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

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