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Where Are We Going, Phil Morse? Changing Agendas and the Rhetoric of Obviousness in the Transformation of Computing at MIT, 1939-1957
Winter 1996 (vol. 18 no. 4)
pp. 34-41

This paper discusses the failure of the attempt to establish a computational center at MIT in the 1930s and the effect it had on the subsequent shift from analog to digital computing during the 1950s.

1. For an interesting comparison of American with the much less successful British efforts to develop differential analyzers—as well as the digital computer after the war—see M. Bowles, "Theory and Practice: Obstacles and Opportunities in the Development of the British and American Differential Analyzers," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, no. 4, 1996.
2. The quotes are from Morse on his appointment as head of the Center; see MIT Archives, AC 62 (MIT Computation Center), Box 1, "Project Proposal—Contract Material," material dated 2-20-51.
3. The minutes of the committee are in MIT Archives, MC 75 (Morse Papers), Box 2, "Committee on Machine Methods of Computation."
4. "Requirements for Electronic Computing Equipment for Training and for Educational Res. at the Institute," 5-1-54, MIT Archives, MC 75, Box 21, "Committee on Machine Methods of Computation." For more on the Center of Analysis and Bush's prewar exploration of computing technologies, as well as acute insights into Bush's character and intellectual predilections as an inventor, see the intriguing book by Colin Burke, Information and Secrecy: Vannevar Bush, Ultra, and the Other Memex.Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
5. REAC is mentioned in (Rees, 1950) "The Federal Computing Machine Program," Science, vol. 112, pp. 731-736, Dec. 1950.
6. P. Ceruzzi, "When Computers Were Human," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 237.
7. "Report of the Committee on Evaluation of Engineering Education," J. Eng. Education, vol. 46, p. 38, 1955; best for the changing curriculum for electrical engineering at MIT are Wildes and Lindgren, 1985 and Ceruzzi, 1989.
8. For more on engineers, education, and professional self-identity especially in relation to basic and applied science in the years after the war, see Reingold in Goldberg and Steuwer, 1988.
9. See, for instance, "The Role of Physics in Engineering Education—the Report of a Committee of the American Institute of Physics," J. Eng. Education, vol. 46, p. 593, 1956, that speaks of the "engineers that are needed in the complex civilization in which we find ourselves."
10. Wildes and Lindgren, 1985 p. 233, citing a Caldwell memo of 3-46 to Forrester.
11. For the professionalizing self-promotion of cyberneticists after World War II, see Bowker, 1993.
12. On numerical analysis and early computing, see Aspray in McCleary and Rowe, 1989.
13. The figures for research assistants are drawn from the minutes of the Morse committee, MIT Archives, MC 75, Box 2, "Committee on Machine Methods of Computation." Sponsorship for the assistantships shifted from the Office of Naval Research to IBM in 1955.
14. Bush once wrote about the mathematics of circuits that "every formula, every step should have for him a real and vital meaning in terms of copper and iron, the flow of water, or whatever he may treat" (Bush, 1929, pp. 6-7). Bush's computers—and analog devices generally—were interpretations of mathematics and computation in terms of "copper and iron."
15. Even when digital computers were designed and constructed to display their internal components and operation, as was Paul Morton's CALDIC at Berkeley, they did not bear the same pedagogical burdens as the analog analyzers, for they were never intended to reflect the nature of the world or the tools appropriate to its study. See Rees, 1982, p. 117.
16. See notes of the meeting of 11-5-52, "Committee on Machine Methods of Computation," MIT Archives, MC 75, Box 2.
17. W. Aspray, "The Scientific Conceptualization of Information: A Survey," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 129, 1985.
18. W. Aspray, "The Transformation of Numerical Analysis by the Computer: An Example From the Work of John von Neumann," J. McCleary and D. Rowe, eds., The History of Modern Mathematics.New York: Academic Press, 1989.
19. G. Bowker, "How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943-1970," Social Studies of Science, vol. 23, pp. 107-127, 1993.
20. Bowles, 1996.
21. G. Brown, "Automation, 1955—a Retrospective," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 377, 1984.
22. A. Burks and A. Burks, "The ENIAC: First General-Purpose Electronic Computer," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 382-383, 1981.
23. V. Bush, Operational Circuit Analysis.New York: John Wiley&Sons, 1929.
24. V. Bush, Pieces of the Action.New York: William Morrow and Company, 1970.
25. S. Caldwell to V. Bush, Sept.26, 1945, Library of Congress, Bush Papers, Box 18, Folder 449 ("S. Caldwell").
26. P. Ceruzzi, "Electronics Technology and Computer Science: A Co-evolution," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 257-275, 1989.
27. Ceruzzi, 1991.
28. K. Compton to W. Weaver, June26, 1947, personal copy from J.R. Killian.
29. J.P. Eckert et al., "Description of the ENIAC and Comments on Electronic Digital Computing Machines," Nov.30, 1945, National Archives, RG 227 (OSRD), Records of the Applied Math. Panel, Box 62, "Study 171—Survey of Computing."
30. G.E. Management Consultant Services Division, The Next Step in Management ... an Appraisal of Cybernetics, 1952.
31. O. Gingerich and I.B. Cohen, "Notes on an Interview With Dr. Vannevar Bush," May22, 1970, personal copy from P. Crawford.
32. S.J. Heims, The Cybernetics Group.Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.
33. T. Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine.New York: Avon Books, 1990.
34. J.R. Killian to Compton "Memo. on Co-ordinating Our Activities in the Field of Analysis and Computation," Oct.4, 1945, AC4, Box 49, Folder 7, "Center of Analysis."
35. C. Loevvner, "A Study of Modern Computational Devices," ca February 1945, National Archives, RG 227, Records of the Applied Math. Panel, Box 62, "Study 171."
36. M.S. Mahoney, "The History of Computing in the History of Technology," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 10, pp. 113-125, 1988.
37. P.M. Morse, "Where Is the Long Hair?" Technology Rev., vol. 48, p. 107, 1945-1946.
38. P.M. Morse, "On the Use of Digital Computers," Physics Today, p. 21, Oct. 1956.
39. P.M. Morse, In at the Beginning: A Physicist's Life.Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977.
40. L. Owens, "Vannevar Bush and the Differential Analyzer: The Text and Context of an Early Computer," Technology and Culture, vol. 27, pp. 63-95, 1986.
41. M. Rees, "The Federal Computing Machine Program," Science, vol. 112, pp. 731-736, 1950.
42. M. Rees, "The Computing Program of the Office of Naval Research, 1946-1953," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 117, 1982.
43. N. Reingold, "Physics and Engineering in the United States, 1945-1965, a Study of Pride and Prejudice," The Michelson Era in American Science, 1870-1930, S. Goldberg and R. Stuewer, eds. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1988, pp. 288-298.
44. J.A. Stratton to Weaver July30, 1950, Rockefeller Foundation Archives, 1.1, Box 2, Folder 26.
45. J.A. Stratton to Killian and Sherwood Feb.3, 1950, MIT Archives, AC 12, Box 6, "Digital Computing Lab."
46. R. Taylor, "Progress Report I. Rockefeller Electronic Computer Program," Feb.8, 1947, Rockefeller Archives, 1.1, 224, Box 4, Folder 32.
47. J.W. Tukey, "Mathematical Consultants, Computational Mathematics and Mathematical Engineering," Amer. Mathematical Monthly, vol. 62, p. 570, 1955.
48. F.M. Verzuh, "Memo. on the MIT DA," Nov.10, 1954, MIT Archives, AC 62, Box 2, "Dr. Frank Verzuh."
49. F.M. Verzuh, "Operational Aspects of Present MIT Computing Facilities," Mar.1, 1954, MIT Archives, MC 75, Box 2, "Comm. on Machine Methods."
50. W. Weaver to S. Caldwell, Mar.27, 1950, Rockefeller Archives, 1.1, 224, Box 2, Folder 26.
51. D. White and H. Woodson, Electromechanical Energy Conversion.New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1959.
52. K.L. Wildes and N.A. Lindgren, A Century of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, 1882-1982.Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985, p. 348. Project MAC had wider aims, captured in the alternative version of the acronym, Machine-Aided Cognition, for which see, e.g., Norberg and O'Neill, Transforming Computer Technology, and P.N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.
53. M.V. Wilkes, Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer.Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985, pp. 164-165.
54. E.B. Wilson, Jr., An Introduction to Scientific Research.New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952.

Citation:
Larry Owens, "Where Are We Going, Phil Morse? Changing Agendas and the Rhetoric of Obviousness in the Transformation of Computing at MIT, 1939-1957," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 34-41, Winter 1996, doi:10.1109/85.539914
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