History of Numerical Analysis

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Cleve Moler

Oral History (pdf)

Interviewer: Thomas Haigh

In this interview, Cleve Moler, Chairman and Chief Scientist of The MathWorks and creator of MATLAB, discusses his career to date. The first session focuses on his academic career, beginning with his education, and his experiences as an undergraduate student of John Todd at Caltech, and as a graduate student of George Forsythe in Stanford’s mathematics department. Moler then discusses the development of his intellectual interests, and his subsequent academic appointments at the Universities of Michigan (in mathematics) and New Mexico (in both mathematics and computer science). Moler discusses the origins of the Gatlinberg conferences, and his role in the EISPACK and LINPACK projects run by the Argonne National Laboratory to produce high quality, tested and portable mathematical software during the early- to mid-1970s. These packages are discussed in detail, and framed within the broader context of the development of numerical analysis as a discipline. Moler also discusses his involvement within ACM SIGNUM and SIAM, his managerial roles during the 1980s with Intel’s supercomputing division and with failed supercomputer vendor Ardent, and his work as a teacher and author of several important textbooks. The second session turns to MATLAB, the world’s most commercially successful piece of numerical analysis software. Moler outlines its development from a freely distributed package he created for educational purposes, and its commercialization by Jack Little and Steve Bangert, originally for the IBM PC in 1984. He recounts the subsequent development of MATLAB in some detail, and analyzes its current and competitors (including several derived from the same original code base), its relationship to open source software, its changing user base, the corporate philosophy and rapid growth of MathWorks, and the development of MATLAB through a number of major revisions including the addition of toolboxes and a graphical user interface.

Key words: SHARE, EISPACK, LINPACK, BLAS, IMSL, NAG, ACM SIGNUM, SIAM, MATLAB, MATLAB Toolboxes, Simulink

Funding Agency:  Office of Naval Research, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation

Time frame: 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's

People: John Todd, George Forsythe, Eduard Stiefel, Peter Henrici, Leslie Fox, Larry Payne, James Wilkinson, Alston Householder, Richard Varga, Wayne Cowell, G.W. Pete Stewart, Jack Dongarra, Jack Little, Steve Bangert, Andy Grace, Carl de Boor, Lennart Ljung, John Gilbert

Location: California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, ETH Zurich, University of Michigan, Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of New Mexico, Intel, Ardent, The MathWorks

Citation: Cleve Moler Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 8 and 9 March, 2004, Santa Barbara, California. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA


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