The Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop: Its Origin Story, and Beyond

Brian Berg
Published 04/23/2024
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The annual Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop (AMW) has been held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds since 1975. AMW has attracted the “movers and shakers” on the cutting edge of technology, from Silicon Valley and beyond. The 2024 AMW on April 24-26 will be the 50th annual gathering.

The impetus to start AMW was largely from the the introduction of the MITS Altair 8800, an inexpensive computer that was featured on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. As this was the world’s largest selling electronics magazine at that time, it was clear that the time was ripe for starting a new event to discuss and debate topics related to what came to be known as personal computing. Since networking was still in its infancy, a face-to-face gathering was the best possible way for these discussions to happen.

AMW was sponsored by the Computer Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and IEEE was then and continues to be the world’s largest technical professional organization. The IEEE officers who started AMW were Ted Laliotis and Don Senzig of Hewlett-Packard, Fred Clegg of the University of Santa Clara, Fred Coury of Coury Associates, and Fred Terman of Stanford University.

Intel had introduced the world’s first single chip microprocessor in 1971, and the Altair 8800 was built around the new and more powerful Intel 8080. Attendees and speakers at the first AMW in 1975 included professors and students from many schools including Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the Univ. of Santa Clara. Also included were employees from Silicon Valley companies including Intel, HP, Fairchild, National Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, and Rockwell, as well as some independent consultants. The first AMW had 75 attendees, and the workshop has had a typical attendance of around 100 over the years.

AMW has always operated “off the record” with its intentional lack of written proceedings, and the exclusion of general press representatives. This is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic that has made AMW so special and successful. This policy has encouraged the scientists and engineers who were at the cutting edge of the technology, those who shaped Silicon Valley, and the designers of the next generation devices, to discuss and freely debate various issues. In fact, many features, or lack thereof, were born during these discussions and debates at AMW.

Another characteristic that has made AMW special was the “required” participation and contribution by all attendees, either during one of the sessions or during the open mic session.

The ’70s and ’80s were the defining decades for the remarkable success of the microcomputer. AMW was held at the eye of the vortex that shaped the development of microprocessors and, by and large, fueled the Personal Computing revolution that became the driving engine of the mass market that propelled a brand new industry.

As the industry has matured, so have the topics presented and discussed at the workshop – and AMW has thus evolved into an event covering a very broad range of topics including the social impact of technology. It continues to attract attendees who like to discuss new topics that may seem “on the edge” but which may become commonplace in a few years – or perhaps not.

We look forward to the 50th annual AMW on April 24-26. If you have an interest in receiving an invitation to future workshops, please contact me.

Brian Berg / / AMW Program Committee member /