Computer History Museum report
The Computer History Museum is pleased to report that 2008 was a year of great change and progress. The CHM has a new CEO—John Hollar—who comes to us from Pearson publishing (UK) and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). The signature timeline of computing exhibit, expanded by several thousand feet, is slated to open in fall 2010. The Babbage Engine exhibit ( http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/
), a once-in-a-lifetime experience, continues to draw hundreds of visitors per week.
Some of our new lectures, now available online, include the following:
• "Remix—Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy," Lawrence Lessig
• "The Secret History of Silicon Valley," Steve Blank
• "The 40th Anniversary of the Dynabook," Alan Kay, Charles Thacker, and Mary Lou Jepsen (moderated by Steve Hamm, Business Week)
• "An Evening with ENIAC Pioneer Jean Bartik"
• 2008 Fellows Awards: Jean Bartik, Robert Metcalfe, and Linus Torvalds
• "IBM Stretch: The Forgotten Computer that Helped Spark a Revolution," Fran Allen, Fred Brooks, and Harwood Kolsky (moderated by Steve Lohr of The New York Times)
CHM's Software Industry SIG continues to collect first-person accounts from pioneers in the computer software and services industry. In June 2008, the SIG conducted meetings of those who provided software for the DEC, Data General, and HP platforms. More than 30 pioneers and five historians participated in these events. Events included nine workshops and six oral histories from some of these pioneers and were videotaped. When transcribed and edited, they will be posted at http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/oralhistories
. To date, the SI SIG and its predecessor, the Software History Center, have conducted 101 oral histories and 50 pioneer workshops. Of the oral histories, 66 have already been posted on the CHM or Charles Babbage Institute oral history websites; 32 of the workshops have been posted on the CHM website. The rest of these transcripts will be added to the CHM website ( http://www.computerhistory.org
) as soon as editing is completed.
CHM welcomes visitors and scholars of all ages and looks forward to a great 2009. The museum supports scholars—particularly independent and international (non-US) scholars—who pursue research into the history of computing. There is no fee for this assistance.
See what else the CHM has to offer with a visit to http://www.youtube.com/computerhistory
Computer History Museum
Computer history prize announced
The first prize devoted to outstanding work in the history of computing will be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology's SIGCIS in November 2009. SIGCIS is the Special Interest Group on Computers, Information and Society. The winner, as judged by a panel of prominent historians, will receive a check for $1,000. More important, however, is the recognition that this prize brings for the growing volume of excellent books being produced in the field. This is an important step forward in the development of the history of computing as a scholarly subfield.
Funding for the prize is provided by an anonymous donor, on whose suggestion it will be known as the Computer History Museum Prize. Selection of winners and administration of the prize are entirely under the control of SIGCIS, but its chair, Thomas Haigh (University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee) expressed a hope that the inauguration of the prize might prove an important step toward the development of closer ties between the Computer History Museum and the scholarly community. The announcement follows:
"The Computer History Museum Prize is awarded by SIGCIS to the author of an outstanding book in the history of computing broadly conceived, published during the prior three years (e.g., books published in 2006–2008 are eligible for the inaugural 2009 award). Books in translation are eligible for three years following the date of their publication in English. The prize of $1000, established through the generosity of an anonymous donor who wishes to honor the Computer History Museum, is administered by SIGCIS, SHOT's special interest group for computers, information and society. Publishers, authors, and other interested members of the computer-history community are invited to nominate books. Send one copy of the nominated title to each of the committee members [Thomas Misa, Paul Ceruzzi, and Jennifer Light]. To be considered, book submissions must be postmarked by 1 April 2009. For more information, please contact the prize committee chair or the SIGCIS secretary."
For further details, see http://www.sigcis. org
, or contact the SIGCIS secretary (secretary@ sigcis.org).
Jeffrey D. Tang
James Madison University
'SHOT@50': Lisbon meeting
Computing history was well represented at October's annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology. The second of two 50th-anniversary meetings, its theme was "SHOT@50: Looking Beyond." The meeting also had a special flavor because of its location in Lisbon—every four years SHOT meets outside North America.
Within SHOT the history of computing is represented by SIGCIS, the Special Interest Group on Computers, Information and Society ( http://www.sigcis.org
). Of the events SIGCIS organized for the Lisbon meeting, the centerpiece was the SIGCIS annual lunch meeting. As always, we rushed to combine eating and business. For the second time, we auctioned books donated by members, this year bolstered by a sizable donation of new and rare titles from MIT Press. Under the able gavel of David Anderson we raised $821 in sales and cash donations to fund the newly established Michael S. Mahoney/MIT Press Graduate Student Travel Award. Mahoney, who died last summer, had been our auctioneer the year before and so it felt particularly appropriate to honor him in this way. The money he helped raised the previous year funded our first award, presented to Cornell University student Honghong Tinn to assist with her travel expenses to present her work on the Taiwanese computer industry (see Figure 1
). Also at the lunch, Tom Misa made the first public announcement of the new SIGCIS prize for outstanding work in the history of computing: the Computer History Museum Prize. In a brief business session we elected a new slate of officers. Jeffrey Tang took over as secretary and Petri Paju as vice chair, Europe, to join me, Joe November, Chigusa Kita, James Sumner, and Brent Jesiek who continued in our existing positions.
Figure 1. Thomas Haigh presents the Michael S. Mahoney/MIT Press Graduate Student Travel Award to Honghong Tinn.
The official SIGCIS panel was Looks, Chips, Users and Code: The Business of Computing. Janet Delve presented a new look at Jacquard looms, suggesting that Jacquard's personal contribution to technological evolution was less profound than generally assumed. Annals editor in chief Jeffrey Yost discussed divergent component strategies at IBM and Sperry Univac in the 1960s and 70s, shedding new light on the role of semiconductor strategy in the mainframe industry. Labor economist Peter B. Meyer of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics crunched historical data on employment in the information industries to compare income inequality among information workers with patterns in other areas. Pierre Mounier-Kuhn looked at the evolution of the Application Software Department of the Compagnie Internationale pour l'Informatique (CII), the "national champion" computer manufacturer in the French governmental policy (Plan Calcul) launched in 1966. I was the commentator, and Helmuth Trischler of the Deutsches Museum was kind enough to chair.
The history of computing was represented on many other panels. Because of the Inventing Europe meeting being held in conjunction with SHOT, several formal and informal members of the Software for Europe project (one of four European Science Foundation–sponsored research networks within Inventing Europe) were presenting early versions of their work. Corinna Schlombs organized a session on transnational exchange in Cold War computing, in which she discussed the Marshall Plan's role in spreading American computers and concepts of efficiency in Europe, Petri Paju and Helena Durnova exposed hidden commonalities in a comparative perspective on the evolution of computing in Finland and Czechoslovakia, and Ksenia Tatarchenko examined the international ties of Siberian computer scientists.
Gard Paulson looked at the creation of a standard computer language for telephone switches in the 1970s as a case study in the institutional politics of innovation, Nathan Ensmenger talked about software maintenance issues, and an ambitious panel on cybernetics and information theory in the 1960s and 70s, organized by Frank Dittman and Bernard Geoghegan, featured seven speakers—probably a SHOT record.
As part of its plans for the 2009 meeting in Pittsburgh, SIGCIS aims to schedule a full day on the theme "Mike Mahoney and the Histories of Computing(s).
University of Wisconsin
Conference memorializes Takakazu Seki
An international conference commemorating the 300th anniversary of the death of Takakazu Seki was held 25-31 August 2008 at Tokyo University of Science in Kagurazaka, Tokyo. Seki was a great Japanese mathematician in the Edo era, born circa 1642 and died in 1708. He invented a new algebraic notation system, discovered matrix numbers, Bernoulli numbers, and other theorems before those discoveries were made in Europe. He also established the base for Japanese mathematics called Wasan.
The conference began with the welcome message by Shin Takeuchi, Tokyo University of Science president (see Figure 2
). There were 27 invited speeches, delivered by speakers from China, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Speakers discussed interrelationships of Seki's work and mathematics between China, Korea, Europe, and Japan. The conference recognized the major achievements of Seki and his pupils, and the introductory lectures in Japanese were also presented. Later, the attendees visited Seki's grave in Jorinji, near the conference site. The conference proceedings will be published in 2009.
Figure 2. Shin Takeuchi gives the welcome address to the attendees of the mathematics conference honoring the 300th anniversary of Takakazu Seki. (Photo by Akihiko Yamada)
The Mathematical Society of Japan and the Society of the History of Japanese Mathematics hosted the conference. The conference was supported by the Inoue Foundation for Science, the Tokyo Club, the Japan-China Science and Technology Exchange Association, and the Japan Society of Promotion of Science.
Takakazu Seki memorial exhibitions were also held at the Science and Technology Museum of Tokyo University of Science and Technology from 3 Mar. to 10 Apr. and from 21 Aug. to 3 Nov. 2008. The exhibitions included Seki's illustrations and books he wrote, as well as books on mathematics before Seki's era.
Computer Systems and Media Laboratory
50th anniversary: SENAC-1
The 50th anniversary of the Sendai Automatic Computer One (SENAC-1) was commemorated on 14 November 2008 at Tohoku University's Cyberscience Center in Sendai, Japan. The SENAC-1, a large-scale parametron computer for scientific and engineering use, was codeveloped by Tohoku University and NEC. It began operation in November 1958; the joint development project had started in 1956. Shoichi Noguchi, professor emeritus of Tohoku University, and Hitoshi Watanabe, professor emeritus of Soka University and formerly with NEC, gave commemorative speeches on the occasion of the SENAC-1 anniversary. Noguchi joined the project as a PhD student; Watanabe joined NEC in 1953 and was engaged in the development of SENAC-1 (see Figure 3
Figure 3. SENAC-1(NEAC-1102) preserved at the NEC Fuchu plant. (Photo by Akihiko Yamada)
The SENAC-1 introduced several unique features: one was the dual arithmetic structure having two floating-point arithmetic units with a 40-bit mantissa and 8-bit exponent. When the two units were concatenated, the SENAC-1 worked as a double-precision floating-point machine with an 80-bit mantissa and two sets of 8-bit exponents. It used about 9,600 parametrons and a high-speed drum memory of 1,024 words.
The SENAC-1 (NEC's name for it is NEAC-1102) was the first NEC commercial computer. The original SENAC-1 is currently preserved at NEC's Fuchu plant. NEC also built two models of the NEAC-1103, an enhanced model of the NEAC-1102. One of those was built for a customer and the other was intended for NEC's in-house use.
In 1958, five computers were built in Japan including the SENAC-1. The others were the University of Tokyo's PC-1, NEC's NEAC-1101 and NEAC-2201, and Hitachi's HIPAC-101. Interestingly, four of these five were parametron computers. Only NEC's NEAC-2201 was a transistor computer. For more information about the PC-1 and parametrons, please refer to "PC-1 Parametron Computer: 50th anniversary," Events & Sightings, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 30, no. 3, 2008, p. 74.
Computer Systems and Media Laboratory
Oliver G. Selfridge
Obituary: Oliver G. Selfridge
Oliver G. Selfridge died 3 December 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was 82. Selfridge published a number of papers and books on artificial intelligence, and also wrote some mathematical stories for children. Selfridge was born in London on 10 May 1926, a grandson of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American who founded Selfridges department store in London, but his family moved to the US during World War II. Selfridge graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1945, majoring in mathematics. Following service in the US Navy, he returned to MIT to be a graduate student under Norbert Wiener. Selfridge was among those who proofread Wiener's Cybernetics (MIT Press, 1948). Selfridge is known for one of the first users of the term artificial intelligence as early as in the mid-1950s. He was one of the initial organizers of the Dartmouth Conference on artificial intelligence held in 1956.
One of his important contributions to the field was "Pandemonium: A Paradigm for Learning" written in 1959 ( Proc. Symp. on Mechanisation of Thought Processes, pp. 511-529). In that paper he proposed an architecture for pattern recognition, and this work is known as a classic in the AI field.
The press reported his obituary under the titles such as "Computer scientist paving the way for artificial intelligence" ( Guardian, 17 Dec. 2008), or "an early innovator in artificial intelligence" ( New York Times, 4 Dec. 2008). According to the New York Times obituary written by John Markoff, in the 1960s, Selfridge was associate director for Project MAC, an early time-shared computing research project at MIT. He did much of this work at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a federally financed research center for security technology. He then worked at Bolt, Beranek & Newman, now BBN Technologies, which develops computer and communications-related technology. In 1983, he became chief scientist for the telecommunications company GTE. He began advising the nation's national security leaders in the 1950s, among other tasks serving on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Scientific Advisory Board of the National Security Agency.