Isaak Semenovich Bruk
One of the USSR most famous computer pioneers.
Composed and translator
by Alexander Nitussov
Isaac Semenovich Bruk was born on the 8 th of November 1902 in Minsk ( Byelorussia ) into poor family of a minor employee at a tobacco factory. In 1920 he graduated from a secondary school and moved to Moscow where he entered the technical university - Moscow Higher Technical School (MHTS). It was one of the oldest and most advanced technical universities of Russia and one of the two which already had special electro-engineering faculties. Those times electrical-engineering (being a part of physics) was the most progressive and perspective –in scientific sense- technical subject.
Isaak Semenovich Bruk
The faculty was established by professor Karl Adol'fovich Krug - Russian/Soviet pioneer and enthusiast of the new science. During the Civil War 1918-1921, Krug alone taught daily (8 hours a day!) for the catastrophic lack of professors and determination to save new subject; not to let the whole faculty to be closed. No wonder that all his students also became life-long enthusiasts themselves. At the university (MHTS) Bruk quickly developed interest to scientific work. Serious research on control of asynchronous electric motors became his diploma project. He graduated in 1925 and joined a research team at new All-Union Electro-Engineering Institute (UEEI), also headed by K.A. Krug.
UEEI was a “brand new” powerful scientific-research centre (than, one of the Europe biggest and most progressive) created by K.A Krug in 1922-1927. Krug was one of the principal creators of the USSR first and most important global state program. It focused on rapid development of electric power production and its intensive implementation in national economy - “State plan for Electrification of Russia” (SpER). The SpER project was managed directly by government administration of the highest level; K.A. Krug was its leading scientific expert. The program served as basis for the future Soviet explosive scientific and industrial advance (the “Industrialisation”) of the 1930-1940-s. Such program needed principally new organisation of scientific researches and of corresponding –mass- education. To avoid traditional bureaucratic obstacles Krug personally made everything important (including architectural plan of the UEEI buildings) receiving all necessary support directly from V. Lenin. So in December 1922, he was dispatched to Germany for purchasing equipment for UEEI, with unbelievably big (considering post-war hunger and destruction) sum of money (100000 gold Roubles) assigned by Lenin himself. Later Krug (with some young colleagues) made two more scientific (and “purchasing”) visits to Germany . In the beginning of the 1930s Krug also built (traditionally “by himself”) huge university - Moscow Power Engineering Institute (MPEI), the USSR first true campus. Krug also invited leading scientists and most promising young specialists irrespectively of their social, religious or other origin . Thus Sergey Lebedev – “computer scientist number one” also graduated from MHTS. Krug, who had been his tutor, appointed him at UEEI as a scientific collaborator.
Power production became the decisive issue of the whole state development for several following decades. No wonder that it affected scientific ideology (or “mentality” in general) of the whole younger generation of scientists, engineers, etc. All later soviet computer pioneers originated from that field - from the “Krug's institutes”. Also the power production (not only needs of defence) became the first catalyser and customer of the future soviet computer industry. Therefore, Isaak Bruk - one of the leading computer scientists, whose whole scientific biography was predetermined by learning and working “at Krug's”, was not an exception.
At UEEI Bruk designed a series of asynchronous motors and also was engaged in solving problems of power generators parallel operation. In the 1930-1935-s he lived and worked in big industrial centre - Kharkov, one of the oldest university towns of the East Ukraine, where he designed and produced several new electric machines, including some explosion safe asynchronous motors.
In 1935 I.S. Bruk returned to Moscow where academician K.I. Shenfer - leading Soviet expert on electric motors, recommended him to Power-Engineering Institute at the academy of sciences (PEI of AS USSR) . At PEI Bruk established a laboratory for electrical systems and set out to researching for calculations in the field of powerful electrical networks. For modelling purposes he created his first analog computer in 1935. It was so-called “calculation table of alternating current”, which was really a table  (approximate size: 1 x 2 m) with electrical circuitry and chess-board-like net of contacts. It was connected to an analog computation machine. In 1936 his research and project work was awarded a scientific degree “candidate of sciences” without submission of dissertation thesis. In October of the same 1936 his submitted thesis for “doctor of sciences” degree was adopted by scientific council. The subject was defined as “Longitudinal compensation in electric transmission line”.
Another computer project was performed before 1939. That time it was an attempt to make enormous mechanical integrator, something distantly remaining enlarged calculating machine of C. Babbage. Although some of its sections were finally assembled the installation in general demonstrated weakness of mechanical calculators. It was clear that the time of principally new devices was at the threshold. However the machine was operable and, in 1939 Bruk made a report at the academy about successful solving of differential equations of 6 th order. In the same year he was elected a member of the academy (AS USSR).
During the following war Bruk continued researches in power engineering and simultaneously designed control devices for anti-aircraft gun. Those were mechanical analog-devices with calculating elements of conical shape (so-called ‘conoids'). He also devised a synchronising mechanism enabling the aircraft gun to shoot through revolving propeller. In 1947 he was elected an academician of the Academy of Artillery Sciences .
During the first post war years he developed machinery for big power stations. He also headed a group –N. Lenov and others- at PEI which produced new electronic differential analyser (EDA). It could solve integral equations up to the 20 th order.
Electric analog-computers were incomparably more advanced than mechanical ones but it was already clear for Bruk that only electronic computer could produce necessary performance and precession of calculations.
It was really a piece of luck when, in May 1948, academician A.I. Berg introduced him an “able young man”, talented designer Bashir Rameev (www.computer-museum.ru/english/galglory_en/rameev.htm). By the end of 1948 Bruk and Rameev already submitted draft project and received the USSR first patent on electronic digital computer. In 1950-1951 a team of young engineers, graduates of “Krug's” MPEI (radio faculty) headed by Bruk designed and produced small electronic computer M-1, controlled by programs stored in its memory .
Basic ideas for M-1 were suggested by Bruk and his young assistant H.Y. Matyukhin (www.computer-museum.ru/english/galglory_en/Matyukhin.htm) who was then only 24. Later Matyukhin became an academician and one of the leading computer designers. The group worked at Bruk's laboratory at PEI . Their work was complicated by shortage of financing, and even bigger difficulties regarding necessary electronic parts. Nevertheless the author should always be dodge if he wanted to see results of his labours . Being member of the Artillery Academy Bruk received access to storages of trophy German military equipment. There his young colleagues-in-project searched for necessary parts. Among other they founded many copper-oxide diodes, oscilloscope and a teletype, which they used as output unit. M-1 was put in experimental operation in the beginning of 1952, almost at the same time as MESM of Sergey Lebedev in Kiev . Both Lebedev and Bruk knew nothing about each other's work – computer projects were secret issue those years.
In 1952 Bruk produced his next computer M-2. That time the team was headed by Mikhail Katsev, (www.computer-museum.ru/english/galglory_en/kartsev.htm) also young graduate from MPEI. Average performance of M-2 was about 2 000 op/sec. Common electron ray tubes were used as memory devices and semiconductor diodes were implemented in logic circuits. That significantly reduced number of electron valves, power consumption and therefore computer cost. In summer of 1953 M-2 was in operation. It performed calculations for the Institute of Atom Power, A.I. Berg's institute of electronics, for Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physic AS USSR, for Institute of Mechanics AS USSR which made calculations for hydraulic power plants etc., etc. That time only three computers were able to solve such problems: BESM of S. Lebedev (in Moscow), STRELA of Rameev and Basilevskiy (Moscow) and M-2 of Bruk (also Moscow).
In 1954, and later in 1957, M-2 was improved and capacity of its memory –RAM- was extended to 4096 words. It needed special additional register which stored information about the memory zone being in current usage and also special operation for contents replacement in that register (memory zones switching). In M-2 Kartsev (presumably the first time) used truncated addresses in commands and also truncated operation codes. Such idea was implemented for forming of executive addresses in computers of the second and third generations, for example in IBM-360 computers.
Computer of relatively low speed could satisfy needs of many enterprises. In 1955-1956 Bruk used his experience to work out a conception of small computers and defined their principle difference from computers of maximal performance (super computers).
Next practical solution for problem of small computer design, which turned to be very popular and subsequently widely used for noticeable period of time, was given in project of their third machine - M-3. It was made in 1956-1957, at the institute headed by Bruk. M-3 operated with binary numbers of 30 places, with fixed point. It had commands of two-address format, magnetic drum with capacity of 2048 words was its memory device and its speed -30 op/sec. With usage of ferrite memory its speed reached 1500 op/sec. M-3 had only 770 electron valves and 3 000 copper-oxide diodes. Its working site demands were reduced to only 3 sqw.m. It was designed by N. Matyukhin and V. Belynskiy under general guidance of Bruk.
M-3 proved to be a good machine. However it was not included into any official plan, what caused problems with its serial production. Bruk set out to search for customers and soon, by lucky occasion he met academician Ambartsumyan of AS Armenia, who came to Moscow in search for computer projects. He willingly took the M-3 set of documents to Yerevan, where it was used by academician S.N. Mergelyan of the Institute of mathematics AS Armenia as basis for the first Armenian computers “Aragats” and “Razdan”. Later a part of the institute developed into Yerevan Institute of Mathematic Machines, and there computer “ Razdan” (design B.B. Melik-Shahnazarov) came into serial production. I n Moscow those were design bureau of academician S. Korolev and an institute whose director academician A.G. Iosifyan was scientific head of the project. It was also handed-over to China and manufactured in Peking at a telephone plant. One more application M-3 found in Hungary ; where it was assembled as the first Hungarian electronic computer.
In 1957 M-3 was also officially adopted by the USSR State commission, under academician N.G. Bruyevich, and finally put into commercial production in Minsk, at “S. Ordzhonikidze” plant as prototype for two later series of computers “ Minsk ” (designers G.P. Lopato and V.V. Przhiyalkovskiy). Active development of computer engineering in Byelorussia and Armenia exerted positive influence on their republican science. The both turned into computer producing centres and their academies performed significant researches on computers and related subjects.
Thus i n the beginning period more organizations cooperated in M-3 research and production of its single pieces, or better to say it was simultaneously produced in several places. Computers of later models “Minsk-2” and “Minsk-3” and some other Armenian and Byelorussian computers still displayed features of M-3. The school of control computers founded at the Moscow Scientific-Research Institute of Electronic Machinery also began with M-3, what was often confirmed by the former members of its design team - B.M. Kagan and V.M. Dolkart.
In 1956 I.S. Bruk made a report at the AS USSR session on automation. He spoke on the principal directions for industrial implementation of the electronic machinery for computing and control. In 1957 he first discussed scientific problem concerning “electronic control machines (computers)”. He named it “Working out theoretical foundations for basic principles of their design and application”. A new Institute for Electronic Control Machines (IECM) was established at the AS USSR for researches on that subject in 1958. Bruk became its first director .
Description of the problem contained systematized narration on principal directions of fundamental theoretical and applied researches in the field of industrial automation and control with the use of digital electronic computers. It also contained discourse on development of control systems that included human operator interacting with computer. The term “cybernetics” was not yet in use those times; it was connected with inertia of recent ideological struggle against that “anti-science” (popular definition among conservative ideologists). That was a famous episode in history of the Soviet science, described in many sources (although sometimes in exaggerated way). Nevertheless, the problem itself, defined by Bruk, was aimed (though not named) at the development in that very field. Later it received title “ technical cybernetics ”.
The problem-defining report of Bruk, published by the AS USSR in 1958, initiated an organizational process that resulted in establishing number of research institutes and design bureaus, especially in defense field, which were engaged in design and implementation of both universal and special computers for control purposes.
In 1957 a research team of IECM, headed by M.A. Kartsev began development of new control computer M-4, one of the first transistor machines intended for real time mode control of network of experimental radio location stations. The latter were designed and built by Radio Engineering Institute of AS USSR under academician A.L. Mints. In 1958 draft project and technical description of M-4 were submitted and, in 1959, two sets of M-4 were produced and put into operation. M-4 was a multi-machine complex. Testing of serially manufactured M-4 was performed on operating model of radio-location station in 1962. That was the first computer (complex) designed upon technical assignment from a concrete customer. In that case technical solutions were influenced by concrete algorithms for processing of given –or supposed- information. М -4 operated with numbers of 23 decimal places with fixed point (representation of negative numbers in additional codes). Its RAM capacity was 1024 numbers of 24 decimal places, and program ROM capacity 1280 numbers of 30 decimal places. Data and program memory were separated. Besides, it had units for information in/output with their own buffer memory and it was also provided with parallel information in/output through 14 channels, with speed more than 6000 numbers per second. Real performance of M-4 reached 30000 op/sec (addition operations).
Principal official decision on M-4 serial production was adopted in 1962, but its designers insisted on its immediate modernization. They proved that within the 1957-1962 period progress in production of electronic components was very essential, therefore the modernization would greatly improve characteristics of M-4 and make it ten times more powerful than any other soviet computer. New version of M-4, now it was called M-4M, was extended with new units for information initial processing – re-coding unit, co-ordinate definition unit- and additional memory buffer.
In December 1964 five computers М -4 М were produced. They met all requirements to level of radio location station computers of that time. Their performance equaled 220000 op/sec with ROM stored programs, and 110000 op/sec with RAM stored programs. RAM capacity varied from 4096 to 16 384 words of 29 decimal places, depending on the computer (complex) configuration. ROM capacity from 4096 words/instructions plus 4096 words for constants (also 29-decimal places) to 8192 words/instructions and 8192 words for constants. Information input-output speed was 6256 numbers per second (14 decimal places) or 3125 numbers per second (29 decimal places).
That model remained in serial production for about 15 years.
In 1968 Kartsev developed new set of peripheral devices, which included information input unit and also units for information storage, documentation, partial processing and its output to external user nodes, with simultaneous asynchronous operation of all user systems.
Another project performed by IECM, under Bruk's personal guidance was computer M-7. It was designed as controlling computer for power-generating blocks of electric power plants (“boiler–turbine-generator”). It monitored and maintained normal parameters of their operation by means of maintaining minimal fuel consumption and sending corresponding setting commands to regulating devices. It also processed complex programs for starting and halting of power-generating blocks, and for complex analysis of their parameters with the aim of pre-failure situations early detection and sending the information to operator's control panel.
Design of the computer architecture was performed with respect to algorithms of expected problems, what enabled optimal technical solutions for reaching necessary performance and reliability. M-7 was a classical digital control computer (sensor-based) of serial operation, with magnetic drum memory and developed devices for communication with controlled objects, what enabled input of analog parameters with their conversion into digital form. It also monitored discrete information from relay sensors. M-7 processed numbers of 12 decimal places with fixed point.
Similar architectural principles were embedded into American computers “Librascope”. Design of M-7 and its implementation at hydraulic power-plant (HPP) in Konakowo, with 280 MWt power-producing blocks, and HPP in town of Slawyansk (800 MWt) were performed by teams of N.N. Lenov and N.V. Pautin in 1966-1969.
In 1958 I.S. Bruk set another project – universal digital computer M-5. At the beginning M.A. Kartsev was in charge of its architecture planning. Basic idea of М -5 consisted in making it as multi-program and multi-terminal computer, operating both in real time and batch mode. Its architecture was based on common bus connecting central processor, RAM and ROM units and in/out-put control devices. It played role of communication channels, characteristic for computers of the third generation. Its address arithmetic enabled operations with index registers and addresses converting in basic commands. The computer operated with numbers of 37 decimal places with both fix and floating points. One-address instructions of 37 decimal places format contained address fields, key fields, and also indexes and operation codes. It also had a page memory.
M-5 with its transistor circuitry and ferrite memory (that is the second generation components) already had many architectural features which made it a predecessor of the third generation. One computer was manufactured in Minsk in 1961, unfortunately it was not put in serial production for rather bureaucratic than technical reasons.
Already in the second half of the 1950s Bruk came to the conclusion that computers should be used not only for scientific researches and purposes of technical control but also for economic information processing – problems of registration, statistics, economical planning and modeling. Having studied methods of linear programming formulated by L.V. Kantorovich, classical dynamic modeling of economy and balance methods of V. Leontyev he began a campaign at IECM for implementation of mathematical methods and computer engineering in solving of economic problems on the state level. He cooperated with experts-economists who began usage of mathematical methods and computers and engaged in his institute's programs, thus saving many of them (than it was considered by officials as violation of Marxists principles) from numerous troubles. He always put high demands onto authenticity of initial data bases for economic-mathematical modeling. Those were primarily correlations of prices. He insisted that a “healthy” economy can not support branches which are planned as unprofitable, and he was sure the economical reforms in the beginning of the 1960s should include corrections of prices. At the same time he considered specifics of the economic-mathematical problems, while designing computers of the next generations.
Those and other proposals of Bruk on usage of computers in economy were confronted by numerous high level officials from the USSR State Committee on Planning, to which Bruk's institute was directly subjected in the 1960s. As a result of long lasting conflicts Bruk was forced to leave his directorial at the IECM. It happened in 1964.
Having retired from his basic position Bruk, nevertheless remained at IECM as scientific consultant. His recommendations on architecture, circuitry and other design solutions for several computers of ASCM, so-called “Aggregate System of Computer means on Microelectronic base”) developed in 1969-1971, resulted in computers M-4000, M-4030, M-400 and later SM-3 and SM-4 with characteristics similar to computers wide spread on the world market of that time (mainly to PDP line).
It was only natural that Bruk was always deeply interested in the ways of the Soviet computing development in the 1960-1970 s. His –never published- commentaries of 1971, on report of the Special commission on new program – compatible ES computers (system “Ryad”) are of notable historical interest. Bruk wrote, “If only we don't make it an objective to penetrate international market and partly suppress the Western producers, then designers of “Ryad” should pay more attention to our local conditions and consider their changes caused by implementation of computation means. Presented report is aiming us at repeating (may be even accelerated) the way passed by foreign companies, chiefly by the USA . That is wrong in principle. The increased investments, intensive education and some other programs, aimed at nearing the American level, are considered as key factors. Although the investments can produce some better results, generally speaking that is only partly true. The basic thesis claims that the high economic effect of computer industry in the USA will be “automatically” surpassed by planned economy of the USSR for the reason of its undoubted general advantages. However, one should make it a point that in reality there is nothing “automatic”. Economic benefits do not lay on the surface and their achievement needs both great skill and efforts. With the accumulated experience one can see that, although powerful, our (civil) computer industry largely produces equipment of about twelve years older level than in the West. Of course not all our machines are so old. For example BESM-6 of the Institute of Precession Mechanic and Computing Machinery is undoubtedly near to that level both with its logic and performance”.
“However, low level of technologies, embedded into their design is characteristic for all projects. The fact that yearly total production of few hundred computers consists of more than ten types, incompatible in design, logic, programming languages etc. is clear evidence of lack of any reasonable production planning and regulation. For that reason replacing numerous “promoted” and “recommended” models with limited number of compatible machines would be largely progressive.”
To correctly understand Bruk's notices one should remember picture of the world computing at the end of the 1960s. Although USSR suffered from production of numerous incompatible machines it did not mean it was especially weaker than others. The whole West Europe of that time suffered from the same “disease” (or rather typical process). Each industrial country produced several types of computers most of which were not compatible with others. Rapid growth of demands in convenient compatible computers and standard software packages on all-European customers' market couldn't be satisfied by any single European company. However, both national ambitions and commercial competition, in- and between countries, largely hampered process of possible co-operation and steadily weakened European common “computer power”. Thus France wouldn't willingly adopt British standards, Britain could not afford (also for economic reasons) “rebuilding” of its computer production for the sake of other standard, German and Swedish machines were good but not numerous and equally incompatible, results of some interesting Dutch projects remained mainly in research laboratories. Nobody ever thought of helping the weaker “partner” (oppositely to what was normal practice in the East Europe for the next twenty years). As a result the whole European (civil) computer production was suppressed and crashed by the IBM in the 1970s. Mass production of well adopted to consumer market computer hard- and soft-ware, as well as aggressive advertising and skilful promotion were among its basic characteristics. The fact was often admitted by European computer pioneers (e.g. Morris Wilkes) and historians in the 1990s.
More of the Bruk ' s notices read, “ It ' s practically impossible to make exact copy of computer only from its manual, list of commands and general technical description. There's no need to prove that purchasing licenses is the best way to master foreign achievements. Otherwise – chronic legging behind others. Reducing number of designed and produced models (to reasonable minimum) would be optimal way of expediting design and production process. Mass production of small and medium models, that are in highest demand, should be the primary goal. For the beginning one or two models with performance ratio of 4-5 times (not 3 times as in IBM-360 family). Two-processor systems are preferable for their high performance, respectively to lower price and reliability in case of partial failures. Also, in the field of applications, it is necessary to find new approaches to build functional structures of Automatic Control Systems, not just digital copy old-fashioned technologies of manual labor”.
Fro his outstanding scientific merits I.S. Bruk was decorated with four orders “Red Banner of Labor” and several USSR medals. He published more than 100 works and received more than 50 patents, 16 of them during his 5 years.
Scientific and engineering work of Bruk and his collaborators was characterized by:
- optimal balance of performance, reliability and costs, what was especially important for small and medium computers;
- progressive solutions for computer circuitry and design, were based on Bruk's perfect knowledge of theoretical foundations of electricity and electro-engineering (educational subjects created and brilliantly taught by K.A. Krug) and electric-pulse engineering. Bruk insisted that his collaborators should study those equally well.
- bold technical solutions in large projects. Bruk taught his assistants to do without big models, but calculate and carefully reason their projects;
- architectural solutions aimed at destination classes of problems;
- full-scale cooperation of engineers and programmers.
His young assistants and colleagues B.I. Rameev, N.Y. Matyukhin, M.A. Kartsev, G.P. Lopato, B.N. Naumov continued his traditions and founded their own teams and scientific schools which played significant role in the further Soviet computer development. N.L. Prokhorov, IECM director since 1984, and its whole stuff have been following Bruk's traditions.
Alongside with rich scientific erudition, wisdom and shrewdness Bruk demonstrated some features of an inquisitive boy, always wishing to know everything and always full of doubts about it. This bold boisterous character and love for a challenge determined way of his life and also kept him in friendly relations with young colleagues for the whole life. Inventiveness, honesty and careful attitude to scientific work deserved his highest appreciation.
However, he was not an easy person, sometimes even rough and very critical but at the same time witty and very humorous. Most of all he hated loose behaviour in work. Basically Bruk was an emotional one, couldn't bear false ways and talks and always directly displayed his opinion (often in sarcastic way) what caused him numerous troubles especially in higher scientific circles and among bureaucrats. The latter often complained with his “bad character”.
“Try to understand how it functions, what you are dealing with. How could you improve it, and don't tolerate the weak points you have discovered”. That was his traditional recommendation and one of the reasons of his personal critical attitude to many things around.
His contribution to the Soviet computer science and engineering is supposed to be not adequately appreciated during his life. Isaak Semenovich Bruk died in Moscow on 6.10.1974.
1. It was a ‘risky game”. Political struggle against religious ideology and values of the “old world” could bring personal repressions. However, Krug was a strong personality, of principles and higher moral values. For example, he invited former priest Pavel Florenskiy (famous Russian –Orthodox philosopher and scholar) as his deputy for scientific work at the UEEI. Florensky occupied that position in 1923-1931; later he vas imprisoned and died.
2. Not to be confused with the Power-Engineering university.
3. Now it is exhibited at the computer department of Moscow Polytechnic Museum.
4. Editor's comment.
5. Even more. Experts and engineers pretty well know that the “source” computer (or another electronic device) could be disassembled into the smallest parts and a new one assembled following that model (seemingly exact copy) but it would either be several times worse or not operate at all. Besides its general structure, quality of its electronic components and assembly technologies (they are different in different countries) play decisive role. This “technical circumstance” is usually either unknown or not considered properly by some historians, “popular descriptors”, etc.
- B.N. Malinovskiy. “History of computing in persons”. Kiev, KIT, 1994.
- Virtual Computer Museum http://www.computer-museum.ru/galglory/17.htm
- L.D. Belkind. “Karl Adolfowich Krug”, M. – Len., 1956 ;