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From the Editor's Desk

David Alan

Pages: pp. 2-3

In the months before Annals goes to press, there is a flurry of correspondence among the editors. We have to decide which articles are ready for publication, how many book reviews we can publish, and what image seems appropriate for the cover. In the midst of all this activity, we received the news that on 22 June 2004, we had lost an important computer pioneer and good friend of Annals, Herman H. Goldstine (see Figure 1).


Figure 1   Herman H. Goldstine (circa 1946), a computer pioneer and friend of Annals.

Goldstine had a long and influential career, which began at the University of Chicago where he was a mathematics student. It was a life that produced an important history, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann (Princeton, 1972), and served to remind us how profoundly the electronic computer changed the lives of those who developed it.

I interviewed Goldstine only once, just two summers ago. I needed some information about his first wife, Adele, who had led the female computing staff at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering during World War II. I was also curious to gather some information about a story that had been circulating among the Annals editors, a story that implied a larger role for Goldstine in the development of the stored program computer (see T.J. Bergin, ed., Fifty Years of Army Computing from ENIAC to MSRC, Army Research Laboratory, 2000, p. 34).

He and I sat in his study and talked about Adele Goldstine, who had died in 1964. The memories were a bit distant, but he could recall stories and ideas that he had not discussed in his published work. In the middle of our talk, his second wife, Ellen, walked into the room. She had been trying to print a document from her computer and had been frustrated by a software problem. With a smile she said, "Some days, I wish you had never invented this machine."

We all laughed, in part because Goldstine never claimed to have invented the modern computer or even the ENIAC. His book, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann, clearly gives the credit to others, most notably von Neumann. This interruption seemed to be a good time to switch subjects. My second topic was the "Draft Report on EDVAC," a document that is the most important artifact to come from the ENIAC project, conceivably more important than the ENIAC itself. As readers of this journal know, the ENIAC had little in common with the stored program computer. It is better described as a collection of electronic adding machines and other arithmetic units, which were originally controlled by a web of large electrical cables. During my interview, Goldstine commented that "We built this machine [the ENIAC], and immediately lost interest in it." However, sometime in the spring and early summer of 1945, the senior ENIAC designers had realized that their large, complicated machine—which had more than 18,000 tubes—could be replaced by a much smaller, simpler device controlled by a program, which would be stored in electronic memory. This idea was described in the "Draft Report on EDVAC," a paper that bore the name of only one scientist, John von Neumann.

The "Draft Report" was a highly important and controversial document. It taught many scientists of the late 1940s the fundamental ideas of computers and programs, yet it failed to credit the work of other ENIAC designers. It certainly needed to include the name of J. Presper Eckert, the chief electrical engineer on the project. It probably should also have recognized John Mauchly, Arthur Burks, and Goldstine himself. Judging from the administrative records of the project, we can speculate that perhaps two dozen other designers were involved in the discussions that produced the "Draft Report." Yet, no other names have ever been added to the paper.

The "Draft Report" acquired additional notoriety in the early 1970s, when it was cited in a judicial decision that invalidated an early patent on the computer. This decision sparked a controversy about the invention of the computer, a controversy that lasted for almost two decades and was often fought in the pages of this journal. In the last couple of years, the editors of Annals started hearing the story that Herman Goldstine was actually the author of the "Draft Report." During my interview, Goldstine said that "[He] had cobbled it together during a few weeks of June 1945." This claim gained credence from three facts. First, von Neumann disliked writing and had others write in his name. Second, the sentences of the "Draft Report" have a style similar to the sentences in Goldstine's book, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann. Finally, the earliest copy of the "Draft Report" found among von Neumann's papers is clearly in a hand that matches that on the letters from Goldstine to von Neumann.

When I raised the subject with Goldstine that summer day, he was eager to discuss the subject but the conversation took a turn that I did not anticipate. He repeated his claim to have written the draft and added a few new details. He noted that von Neumann was traveling regularly during that period and was unable to find the time to write something like the "Draft Report." I then started asking questions that might help me identify which ideas in the paper were von Neumann's and which were Goldstine's but he deflected my inquiries.

"You don't understand," he said, "the world was different before the war. Junior [researchers] were supposed to be devoted to their elders and do everything they asked." Goldstine explained that he had been trained to believe that anything he wrote for a senior scientist would be published under the senior scientist's name. Von Neumann, who had established himself as one of the great mathematical minds of the century in the 1920s, was far senior to Goldstine and to the other leaders of the ENIAC group: John Mauchly, J. Presper Eckert, John Brainerd, and Arthur Burks. It seemed natural to Goldstine, who was slightly older than the others and had already served as an assistant to a University of Chicago mathematician, that the ideas of the ENIAC group should be identified as coming from von Neumann.

Goldstine ended this part of the interview by shaking his head and saying that "The war changed everything." Everyone wanted credit for what they had accomplished. Graduate students and junior scientists were less willing to defer to their elders or to surrender their credit to others.

After the war, Goldstine kept some distance from the debates that attempted to apportion the glory for the computer, though his book clearly identifies von Neumann as the guiding force of the nascent field of computer science. Through most of the 1950s, Goldstine worked on von Neumann's computer project at the Institute for Advanced Study. In 1958, he joined IBM as a senior researcher. He served as IBM's director of research and retired as an IBM fellow. He ended his career as the president of the American Philosophical Society, a scientific organization that was founded in the 18th century. He had a full and satisfying life as an early leader in computers, a career that he probably did not anticipate when he began graduate study in applied mathematics during the 1950s.

Dr. Goldstine would have been familiar with at least one of the themes of this issue, the IBM development laboratory at Boeblingen in Germany. This laboratory, formed in the late 1940s, was one of IBM's first development facilities in Europe. This issue contains three articles—two by Karl Ganzhorn and one by Albert Endres—exploring the history and contributions of this lab. These articles were solicited and edited with the assistance of Ganzhorn and Tim Bergin, our editor-in-chief emeritus.

We also have an article by Mario Aloisio on the calculation of the date for Easter, a calculation that helped to develop the mathematical methods that Goldstine knew so well. In addition, this issue features an article by Hans Neukom on the early use of computers in the Swiss banking industry. Though we have no article on the ENIAC or von Neumann's Institute for Advanced Study computer in this issue, we do think that the contents reflect the ideas that shaped Herman Goldstine's career and report on the world in which he lived.

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