This paper describes the connection machine, a programmable computer based on cellular automata. The essential idea behind the connection machine is that a regular locally-connected cellular array can be made to behave as if the processing cells are connected into any desired topology. When the topology of the machine is chosen to match the topology of the application program, the result is a fast, powerful computing engine. The connection machine was originally designed to implement knowledge retrieval operations in artificial intelligence programs, but the hardware and the programming techniques are apparently applicable to a much larger class of problems. A machine with 100000 processing cells is currently being constructed. 27 references.