The Community for Technology Leaders

From the Editor's Desk

Jeffrey R.

Pages: pp. 2-3

This special issue contains revised manuscripts from the Methodic and Didactic Challenges of the History of Informatics (MEDICHI) workshop held at Klagenfurt University, Austria, in April 2007. The workshop focused on advancing methods and practices in applying history of computing to informatics education and research. The papers ranged from those concentrated directly on such applications, to broader historiographical and thematic examinations of computer and software history.

Remembering Weizenbaum

One of the MEDICHI participants, Joseph Weizenbaum, sadly, passed away prior to revising his contribution—it is published in this issue with only minor editorial changes. At the Babbage Institute, we have heard from a number of individuals fondly remembering Weizenbaum. One such letter came from George Jacobi, who in 1956 was the newly appointed manager of General Electric's ERMA Laboratory. He recalled first meeting Weizenbaum at the laboratory shortly after taking this position:

A young man in shorts and sandals, dressed in the Zeitgeist of the period, sidled around the door jam and asked, "Is this GE?" ... and he indicated we could not do without him. To the question "What do you do?" he answered that he was a systems programmer. As a slightly reformed analog computer expert it took me a lengthy back and forth before I understood what a "Systems Programmer" does. I hired him on the spot. He performed invaluable services on my team ...

Weizenbaum went on to become a gifted professor of computer science at MIT, developing an early natural-language processing system, Eliza, which emulated a Rogerian therapist. The responses of subjects to Eliza, trusting it as they would an actual therapist, contributed to Weizenbaum's sense of the limits humans should place on the role of computers—a perspective articulated in his influential book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation (W.H. Freeman, 1976). His short essay in this issue is indicative of his longstanding role as a critic of leading currents in artificial intelligence research.

Also in this issue

This issue will be more fully introduced by guest editor Laszlo Böszörmenyi, but I will briefly mention the MEDICHI articles here. Michael Mahoney provides us with a valuable analysis that unravels the challenges and rewards of software history. He explains how all software is actually legacy software and reflects the human communities and contexts of its creation. Niklaus Wirth provides a rich essay on the history of software engineering, detailing the deterioration of the quality of programming as software became less constrained by expensive memory. Horst Oberquelle and Oskar Beckmann take us to a different setting with their account of the design and use of a "studio computer," placing this system within the broader context of the history of computer art. Two articles focus directly on computer history applications to education. Roland Mittermeir provides a case analysis involving seminal computer science papers in a college-level Austrian informatics seminar, while Peter Antonitsch et al. discuss computer history applications to Austrian secondary school informatics curricula.

Rounding out this issue is an article by Bernadette Longo, in which she analyzes the influence of early post–World War II science policy debates on early computer developers. She explains how three mathematicians, from industry, a federal agency, and the military, collaborated to help form the ACM.

Editorial Board additions

I am very pleased to announce that Gerard Alberts and Hunter Heyck have recently joined the Annals editorial board. Gerard, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, is the author of numerous works of scholarship on the history of computing, software, and mathematics. He is the principal investigator of a major collaborative European Science Foundation project, "Software for Europe." Gerard will help recruit articles for the Annals from European scholars. Hunter, a historian of science at the University of Oklahoma, is the author of Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of Reason in Modern America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). He will be the new Reviews editor for the Annals. I would like to extend deep appreciation to Raul Rojas for his past leadership of this department.

Torchi's key-driven machine

Finally, Denis Roegel, author of "An Early (1844) Key-Driven Adding Machine" ( Annals, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 59-65), asked that the following statement he sent to us be published: "Too late for the publication on Schwilgué's adding machine, we learned of Luigi Torchi's key-driven machine built in 1834. However, the working details of the machine were apparently never published, and the machine seems now lost."

60 ms
(Ver 3.x)