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Allan Alcorn
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Allan Alcorn

Allan Alcorn

American electrical engineer and computer scientist
Allan Alcorn
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American electrical engineer and computer scientist
A.K.A. Al Alcorn
Is Computer scientist Software engineer Engineer Programmer
From United States of America
Type Engineering Technology Science
Gender male
Birth 1 January 1948, San Francisco, United States of America
Age 72 years
Star sign Capricorn
Allan Alcorn
The details


Allan Alcorn (born 1948) is an American computer scientist and engineer. He was one of the engineers in the team that created Pong, one of the first video games.

Early life and education

Allan Alcorn was born on January 1, 1948 in San Francisco, California. He studied Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, California, and graduated with Bachelor's in Science degree in 1971.



After graduation, Alcorn joined Alexander M. Poniatoff-founded California-based electronics company, Ampex. At Ampex he met and became friends with computer scientists and engineers, Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell. In 1971, Dabney and Bushnell jointly formed a video-gaming company called Atari (initially Syzygy.)

At Atari, Dabney and Bushnell created an arcade gaming console called Computer Space; Dabney created the video circuit, while Bushnell designed its cabinet and worked with Nutting Associates to manufacture the game at scale. Dabney then reached out to Alcorn to join Atari and work with them to create more of such games. The success of Computer Space convinced Alcorn to join Atari as the third employee and a co-founder in 1972.

The three then launched their next arcade game called, Pong. Under Bushnell's leadership, Alcorn used Dabney's video circuit concept to create the programming for the game. The game became a success quickly and the team ramped up its production for scale. Pong became the first successful arcade game. 

While at Atari, Alcorn led the design and programming of various successful games, through 1983.

Trivia: Alcorn was the person who hired Steve Jobs when he applied for a job at Atari in 1974. In 1974, Atari posted a job classified in San Jose's Mercury newspaper. The classified said, "Have fun, make money." Jobs replied to the posting and appeared at Atari's offices with disheveled hair, wearing sandals. He told the recruiter that he won't leave without the job. The recruiter called Alcorn, asking whether he should call the police to deal with Jobs. Curious, Alcorn decided to meet Steve. He was impressed and offered him the job. Alcorn described the incident:

He just walked in the door and here was an eighteen year old kind-of a hippy kid, and he wanted a job, and I said ‘Oh, where did you go to school?’ and he says ‘Reed,’ ‘Reed, is that an engineering school?’ ‘No, it’s a literary school,’ and he'd dropped out. But then he started in with this enthusiasm for technology, and he had a spark. He was eighteen years old so he had to be cheap. And so I hired him!

Bushnell said that Jobs was “brilliant, curious, and aggressive.” Soon, complaints came coming in that Jobs could be very difficult to work with. To make matters worse, he had significant body odor. At the time, Jobs followed a fruitarian diet, and believed that it prevented body odor, so he would not shower regularly or use deodorant. To solve the situation, Alcorn then had Jobs work only at night.

Atari, under Warner

In 1976, Atari was sold to Warner Communications. Atari's founding team and employees continued to work under the new ownership. In February 1976, Ray Kassar, formerly a Burlington Industries executive, joined Atari as its president.

The culture at Atari under Warner and Kassar was different from what it used to be –– the new environment was corporate and business focused while earlier it was engineering heavy. Bushnell left the company in November 1978 following a dispute with Warner over the future of Atari business. Kassar was not liked at the company –– he was known as the "sock king" (a reference to his previous years in the textile business,) and Kassar once in a 1979 interview with San Jose Mercury News, called Atari engineers as "high-strung prima donnas."

In 1978, Alcorn assembled a team of engineers and began designing a game console called Cosmos. After Cosmos was built, he was granted the permission to demonstrate Cosmos at Atari's booth during the 1980 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. A few months later, Alcorn and his team displayed the game at the Toy Fair in New York City. Alcorn returned to California with orders for 250,000 units. However, to his dismay, Kassar refused to manufacture the units citing that the new game system that would compete with the VCS. Cosmos was never manufactured. Following the event, Alcorn departed from Atari in 1983.


After leaving Atari, Alcorn breifly worked with Cumma, a re-programmable video game cartridge/kiosk system and with Etak, one of the first in-car navigation systems.

In 1986, he joined Steve Jobs-founded Apple Inc. as an Apple Fellow. At Apple, he led the project that developed advanced digital video compression that eventually led to the MPEG video compression standard. He also created a Macintosh as a plug-in for an IBM PC.

Silicon Gaming

After leaving Apple in 1991, Alcorn founded  in 1993 Silicon Gaming - a company that created the first multimedia slot machine that revolutionized the slot machine industry. The company transformed the old fashioned slot machine into a media rich device that operated as a traditional slot machine with rich media.


In 1997, he joined Interval Research Corporation, a Palo Alto laboratory and technology incubator founded in 1992 by Paul Allen and David Liddle. A research at IRC led to the formation of his new company in 1998, Zowie, which created electronic toys that let the users animate their own cartoons by tracking the movement of character pieces on a play set connected to your PC. Zowie was acquired in 2000 by the game manufacturer, Lego.


Since 2011, Alcorn had been heading engineering at uGetit –– a California-based product invention, technology R&D, and professional consulting company.

Hack the Future

In 2011, Alcorn co-founded Hack the Future, a technology festival and hackathon for elementary school children.

In popular media

Alcorn was portrayed by David Denman in the 2013 film Jobs, a biographical drama on the life of Steve Jobs.

To cite the article
We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you notice a mistake, please contact us. Below the article, you will find links to the references used.
Article Title: Allan Alcorn: American electrical engineer and computer scientist - Biography and Life
Author(s): PeoplePill.com Editorial Staff
Website Title: PeoplePill
Publisher: PeoplePill
Article URL: https://peoplepill.com/people/allan-alcorn/
Publish Date: 29 Dec 2016
Date Accessed: 31 Oct 2020
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