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Professor Sandy Douglas



Professor Alexander "Sandy" Shafto Douglas CBE (born 21 May 1921, died 29 April 2010) was a British professor of computer science, credited with creating the first graphical Computer game OXO (also known as Noughts and Crosses) a tic-tac-toe computer game in 1952 on the EDSAC computer at University of Cambridge.

Douglas was born on May 21, 1921 in London. At age eight, his family moved to Cromwell Road, near what would become the London Air Terminal.

In the winter of 1938–39, Douglas and his future wife Andrey Parker made a snowman in the grounds of the Natural History Museum. Douglas and his wife would go on to have two children, and at least two grandsons.

During the Blitz, in 1940–41, Douglas's Home Guard Unit, 'C' Company of the Chelsea and Kensington Battalion of the KRRC, had its headquarters in the basement of the Royal School of Mines, just the other side of Exhibition Road from the museums.

Douglas attended the University of Cambridge in 1950. In 1952, while working towards earning his PhD, he wrote a thesis which focused on human-computer interactions and he needed an example to prove his theories. At that time, Cambridge was home to the second only stored-program computer, the EDSAC or Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (the first being Manchester University's "Small Scale Experimental Machine" or SSEM, nicknamed "The Baby", which ran its first program June 21, 1948). This gave Douglas the perfect opportunity to prove his findings by programming the code for a simple game where a player can compete against the computer — OXO.

In 1953 he was elected as a Prize Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; Douglas spends a year at the University of Illinois Computation laboratory as assistant Professor. In 1955 he became Junior Bursar of Trinity College.

OXO computer

The Leeds Pegasus computer was installed in autumn 1957 in the Eldon Chapel on Woodhouse Lane. Douglas set up the Computer Laboratory of the University of Leeds, and it was there that he first became interested in the application of computers to business problems.
The Pegasus holds an especial place in my affection, it being the machine I installed as the central University machine in a disused chapel in Leeds in 1957 — it was known as Lucifer, for Leeds University Computing Installation (FERranti). Our au pair girl from Spain made a beautiful little devilish doll which decorated the machine — it has probably disappeared by now.

In June 1960 the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals set up a Working Party to explore the creation of a national system for handling university admissions. Douglas was appointed a member of the Working Party to provide advice on the use of computers in this system. He had previously worked at Leeds with Ronald Kay, who was to become UCCA's General Secretary, on "an early and primitive but successful attempt to introduce computer methods into student registration procedures".

He entered the commercial field in 1960 as Technical Director of the UK subsidiary of C-E-I-R (now Scientific Control Systems), leaving in 1968 to initiate the European software interests of Leasco Systems and Research Ltd. as Chairman.

In 1980 I worked out that an Apple with two floppy disc drives was about 300 times as powerful as the Pegasus at 1/300th of the cost. Today we can assume that a further reduction of 100 times in cost per operation has taken place, though I haven' t done the sums with a 486-based micro. We must also bear in mind that the Pegasus represented an improvement of at least tenfold in cost per operation over earlier machines. An industry that has reduced its cost per operation by a factor of 10 million or so over 45 years is surely unique and certainly not easy to keep pace with mentally. We are now faced with the problem of what to do about software. The article, like a book, is easy to 'preserve', but to run it requires the original hardware or an emulator. Martin Campbell-Kelly has built an emulator of EDSAC I, and can run the programs on it. But it is difficult, even impossible, to give the flavour of what they did without the photoreader and the screen, since the ability to use these as input or output in unconventional ways, as in my noughts and crosses program where the players interrupted the light beam to input a move and viewed the storage monitor to see the 'board', cannot readily be reproduced on the emulating equipment. The matter becomes even more awkward with micros, where programs of similar nature, eg Wordstar, Wordperfect and Word, have been implemented on several different machines so as to look as nearly alike as possible to the user. No doubt this will be taken up by the CCS Working Parties in due course and some solutions found for working presentations, which must be our aim. All of us on the Committee look forward to welcoming assistance from whatever quarter, in our efforts to carry forward a memory of this fascinating and fast changing industry in working order!

He has been a consultant to various agencies of the United Nations over the past decade, including the Office of Science and Technology
the Human Rights Commission, the Statistical Office of the U.N., the I.L.O. and UNESCO.

He has acted as a consultant also for several international companies including Shell, Philips, and ICI.

Between 1970 and 1974 he acted as Expert Adviser to Sub-Committees D & A of the Select Committee of Parliament on Science and Technology for their enquiry into computing. Between 1976 and 1977 he served on the Sub-Committee C of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries for their enquiries into Cable and Wireless Ltd. and the Tote. From 1973 to 1978 he was Non-executive Director of the Monotype Corporation.

In October 1969 he became Professor of Computational Methods at the London School of Economics. He was Vice-Chairman of the Academic Board on the Board of Management of the University of London Computer Centre and Moderator to the Computer Science Department of Hong Kong Polytechnic.

A funder member of the British Computer Society, he helped to found the Leeds Branch and became its first Chairman. He has served on many of its Committees, and is a Fellow and past President (1971/1972).

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, a Member of the O.R. Society, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, and Data for Development. He is Vice-President of IFIP, the international computer coordinating body and Chairman of its Committee on International Liaison. He also represented IFIP on the Five International Associations Coordinating Committee, which coordinates the work of IFIP with that of IFORS, IFAC, AICA and IMEKO.

He was, in 1977, awarded the IFIP Silver Core award.

He is also:
a Member of the British National Committee for support of the Unesco General Information Programme, and of the BNC for IIASA
Governor of the International Council for Computer Communication.


Over 60 papers have been published by Professor Douglas covering topics in Atomic Physics, Crystallography, Solution of Differential Equations, Computer Design, Programming and Operational Research in the Shipbuilding, Oil Chemical Mining, Engineering and Transportation Industries, and in the Printing Industry.
Douglas, Alexander Shafto; May 18, 1954; "Some Computations in Theoretical Physics", PhD Dissertation 2478, (University of Cambridge. Faculty of Mathematics).
Computers and Society: an Inaugural Lecture [Delivered on 27 April 1972, by Alexander Shafto Douglas; Publisher: London School of Economics and P; Date Published: 1973. ISBN 978-0-85328-019-4 ISBN 0-85328-019-3.
Science Journal, October 1970 "Computers in the Seventies", Alexander “Sandy” Douglas.
Computer Networks, Volume 5, 1981, pp. 9–14. "Computers and Communications in the 1980's: Benefits and Problems", Alexander S. Douglas
Sandy Douglas, "Some Memories of EDSAC I: 1950–1952", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 98–99, 208, October 1979. {{doi:10.1109/MAHC.1979.10018}}

Douglas died in sleep on April 29, 2010, from pneumonia.




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