Kilburn studied mathematics at Cambridge University, where he graduated in 1942 with distinction made . He then worked in World War II in the group of Frederic Calland Williams in the Telecommunications Research Establishment ( TRE) at Malvern on the development of radar.
In 1946 he went to the Department of Electrical Engineering of the University of Manchester but stayed in touch with Williams at the TRE and together with Geoff Tootill they developed in 1947 the Williams tube that was used as an electronic memory for many early computers ( they could hold 2048 bits). Also in Manchester they used the tube for the Small-Scale Experimental Machine ( SSEM ), also called baby. She was finished in 1948 and the first electronic computer with a stored program. The work was continued in the development of the Manchester Mark I (1949) and in collaboration with Ferranti Ltd.. in the Ferranti Mark I computer, which in February 1951 came on the market. He was in front of the UNIVAC, the first commercially sold computer - nine of which were delivered. 1954 was followed by a faster version with floating point arithmetic, and experiments with transistorized computers were made (1953, 1955). This led in 1956 to the MUSE project of a transistorized computer with magnetic core memory and 1 MIPS performance. 1959, also participated Ferranti, which led to the Atlas, which went into operation in 1962. Atlas Six computers were built ( including three in a limited version).
In 1964, the Computer Group of the University was the faculty for computer science (Computer Science) and Kilburn became a professor. In 1966 he began the project of MU 5 computer, which did not lead to a commercial product whose architecture but was partially incorporated in the 2900 series of ICL (to which the computer division of Ferranti now belonged ). The MU 5 went into operation in 1972 at the University and was the last mainframe, which was developed at the university. Kilburn went into retirement in 1981.
In 1965 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Medal he received in 1978, in 1982 he received the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE and in 1973 he was appointed Commander of the British Empire ( CBE). In 1971 he received the W. Wallace McDowell Award and the 1983 Eckert - Mauchly Award from ACM and IEEE.