Terry A. Davis
Terry A. Davis
|Born||December 15, 1969|
West Allis, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||August 11, 2018 (aged 48)|
The Dalles, Oregon, U.S.
Terrence Andrew Davis (December 15, 1969 – August 11, 2018) was an American computer programmer known for creating the operating system TempleOS, developing it alone over the course of a decade. In 1996, Davis began experiencing regular manic episodes, leading him to numerous stays at mental hospitals. Initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he was later declared schizophrenic and remained unemployed for the rest of his life.
Davis was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, later moving to Washington, Michigan, California, and Arizona. He was the seventh of eight children, and his father was an industrial engineer. As a child, Davis owned an Apple II and subsequently learned assembly language on a Commodore 64. He earned a masters degree in electric engineering from Arizona State University and worked for several years at TicketMaster as a programmer for VAX machines.
Davis worked on TempleOS for 12 years. Its development began circa 2003, after he suffered from delusions of space aliens and government agents that left him briefly hospitalized for his mental health issues. Davis grew up Catholic and was an atheist before experiencing a self-described "revelation". He described the experience as seeming "a lot like mental illness ... I felt guilty for being such a technology-advocate atheist ... It would sound polite if you said I scared myself thinking about quantum computers." Afterward, he proclaimed that he was in direct communication with God, that God told him the operating system he built was for God's third temple, and that TempleOS is of "divine intellect" due to the inspired nature of the code. He initially called it the "J Operating system" and later renamed it to "LoseThos", a reference to a scene from Platoon (1986). Another name he used was "SparrowOS" before settling on "TempleOS".
Davis was controversial for his regular use of racist and homophobic slurs, sometimes rebuking his critics as "niggers". However, the critical reception to TempleOS was mostly favorable, as tech journalist David Cassel wrote, "programming websites tried to find the necessary patience and understanding to accommodate Davis". TechRepublic and OSNews published positive articles on Davis' work, even though Davis was banned from the latter for hostile comments targeting its readers and staff. He frequently communicated in randomly-generated blocks of text and off-topic declarations about God, which led to other bans from Something Awful, Reddit, and Hacker News.
Once TempleOS was released, most of Davis' time was spent "coding, web surfing, or using the output from the National Institute of Standards and Technology randomness beacon to talk to God". He posted hours of video blogs to social media, referring to himself as "the smartest programmer that's ever lived", and attracted a small online following. One fan described him as a "programming legend", while another, a computer engineer, compared the development of TempleOS to a one-man-built skyscraper. He was "always lucid" talking with fans if the subject was about computers. In 2017, the OS was shown as a part of an outsider art exhibition in Bourogne, France.
During his final years, Davis struggled with periods of homelessness and incarceration. He stopped taking medication because he believed it limited his creativity. Some fans helped him by bringing him supplies, but he refused their housing offers. On the evening of August 11, 2018, while walking alongside railroad tracks in The Dalles, Oregon, he was struck from behind and killed by a Union Pacific train. Investigators could not determine if his death was suicide or accidental. In his final video, recorded and uploaded hours before his death, he explained that he had recently removed most of his videos because he did not wish to "litter" the Internet. As reports of his death surfaced online, he was memorialized by fans in a number of tributes posted to social media.
- Hicks, Jesse (November 25, 2014). "God's Lonely Programmer". VICE Motherboard. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Sanders, James (January 21, 2014). "TempleOS: an educational tool for programming experiments". TechRepublic. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Cassel, David (September 23, 2018). "The Troubled Legacy of Terry Davis, 'God's Lonely Programmer'". The New Stack.
- Bruet-Ferréol, Quentin (May 13, 2014). "Temple OS, un système d'exploitation pour parler à Dieu codé par un fou génial". Slate.fr (in French). Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Cecil, Neita (September 7, 2018). "Man killed by train had tech following". The Dalles Chronicle. (subscription required)
- Godin, Philippe (2017-01-13). "la Diagonale de l'art - ART BRUT 2.0". Libération (in French). Retrieved 2018-09-07.