His impact on technology:
Gerald Lawson created the first cartridge-based video game system, the Fairchild Channel F. That invention pushed the video game industry forward into a flexible, diverse future — a world in which games were no longer married to their hardware (think Pong). Once players could switch games on a whim, game developers and software companies flourished.
The Atari 2600, the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System and many other classic video game systems owe their fortunes in part to Lawson’s vision.
And yet, Lawson is not a well-known name in video game history — or tech history, for that matter. This, despite the fact that he was one of the few black members of the historic Homebrew Computer Club, which counted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as members.
Where is he now?
Lawson died last year of complications from diabetes. After spending eight years with Fairchild Semiconductor, the makers of the Channel F video game console he helped pioneer, Lawson left and started his own company, VideoSoft, which produced cartridge games for the Atari 2600, the system that ultimately made the Channel F obsolete.
Pong creator and Atari legend Allan Alcorn, who attended Lawson’s funeral service, spoke highly of his gifts, praising him as a “pioneer” and a true original.
Marc Lawson is following in his father’s footsteps as a senior product developer with NBA Digital. However, Marc is more of a software person, while his father was fond of hardware. Over time, Marc has grown to appreciate where his father was coming from.
“He came from an era of punch cards and assembly language programming, whereas I come from a world of C and Java and Objective-C, which is using libraries that actually talk to the hardware,” Marc told BizTech magazine.
“He would comment that ‘you guys don’t really know what it is you’re developing on.’ It’s black box to us. So being programmers, we’ll write code without even understanding the architecture of the underlying hardware and what we can really do with it, because programming is abstracted. As I got a little older, I started to get a little bit more into the hardware side of things.”
One interesting fact about Gerald Lawson: He actually wasn’t a huge gamer himself, his son said. He was more interested in the technology behind video games than in playing them.
Words of wisdom:
“The way we measure intelligence today is, if I have a hundred pounds of intelligence and I get from you 99 pounds, you’re considered bright, right? My feeling is what ‘bright’ is or what ‘genius’ is — if I give you a hundred pounds of intelligence, you give me back 120. That means you take what you’ve taken and gone beyond that. You’ve learned other things, correlated the pieces, and put it together and added something to it. That’s genius.” — Gerald Lawson on what genius means to him in an interview with VintageComputing.com