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The Truth About Bender’s Brain

David X. Cohen, executive producer and head writer of “Futurama,” reveals how MOS Technology’s 6502 processor ended up in the robot’s head

4 min read
“Futurama” tm and © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Futurama” tm and © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

This is part of IEEE Spectrum’s Special Report: 25 Microchips That Shook the World.

On 14 November 1999, an episode of “Futurama,” the animated sci-fi comedy series conceived by “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, jolted computer geeks with a display of technological acumen absolutely unprecedented in prime-time entertainment. In the episode, “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” a character named Professor Farnsworth points his F-ray at the head of the show’s famously ill-tempered robot, Bender. It reveals a little rectangle, apparently a chip, labeled “6502.”

The 6502 was a beloved—at least by geeks—8-bit microprocessor created by MOS Technology in 1975. It was the chip that the scruffy-bearded, sandal-wearing Steve Wozniak used to build the Apple II in 1977—“The Machine That Changed Everything,” as PC World once put it. It was also used in the Commodore PET, the BBC Micro, and a host of other systems that fomented the personal computer revolution.

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The Lies that Powered the Invention of Pong

A fake contract masked a design exercise–and started an industry

4 min read
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Pong arcade game in yellow cabinet containing black and white TV display, two knobs are labeled Player 1 and Player 2, Atari logo visible.
Roger Garfield/Alamy

In 1971 video games were played in computer science laboratories when the professors were not looking—and in very few other places. In 1973 millions of people in the United States and millions of others around the world had seen at least one video game in action. That game was Pong.

Two electrical engineers were responsible for putting this game in the hands of the public—Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn, both of whom, with Ted Dabney, started Atari Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. Mr. Bushnell told Mr. Alcorn that Atari had a contract from General Electric Co. to design a consumer product. Mr. Bushnell suggested a Ping-Pong game with a ball, two paddles, and a score, that could be played on a television.

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