Right Place, Right Time
Looking back on his career, Michael Crick says that he had “a talent for being in the right place at exactly the right moment—in fact, several times.” While a neuroscientist at Harvard, he joined a team of computer scientists who were programming early computers to automate medical systems for hospitals. They recruited Michael because of his medical background. The same group helped to design the Arpanet network for the military, a precursor of the Internet.
“The central problem for the military was that they wanted a network that kept running, even if several nodes were damaged. That’s how the brain works—it has the ability to recover from substantial damage,” says Michael.
State-of-the-art computers in the 1960s had only 64K memories, were hand-built, and filled a normal size room. One of the first computers Michael worked on was encased in wood. Few people knew how to program computers back then, and you learned on the job.
While at Harvard Medical School, Michael designed a number of simple electric circuits that could be trained to learn by reinforcement using Skinner/operant conditioning. The trained circuits emulated the brain by creating their own connectivity patterns, and they kept a regular, one-second pulse or alpha rhythm. “That’s the way the Internet works,” says Michael, explaining that each node in the Internet sends out a periodic pulse that asks about where it is connected and to whom it is talking. This experiment prepared him to think about how the Internet should be designed.
After moving to Washington state, Michael worked at Microsoft where he wrote one of the early programs for the Windows operating system. In 1984, he started a company to design a computer football game, even though he had never played football. His business partner understood football but not computers. After years of work, Electronic Arts marketed the game as John Madden Football. The still popular game, now called Madden NFL Football, will soon be released in 3-D format. “I just happened to be in the right place again,” says Michael.
While growing up, Michael watched his famous father design dream houses with plasticine modeling clay and later observed his own children playing with Legos. This inspired him to write a prototype game in the 1980s that he called “Home Builder.” It evolved into the perennially popular The Sims.