[SIGCIS-Members] on the nature of analog computing

Paul Fishwick metaphorz at gmail.com
Fri Nov 7 07:22:23 PST 2014

I recently had a discussion about analog computing with someone who works actively on
hybrid analog-digital systems at the integrated circuit level. My proposal was that there seems
to be, based on historical accounts and reflection, two differing views on “analog”: 1) analog
reflecting the continuous or discrete character of magnitude of a variable, and 2) isomorphism
indicated by construing analog to be associated closely with analogy.

To take one example which can serve for discussion: Are Minecraft circuits analog, digital, or
both? It depends on how we define “analog” and where we focus (on the issue of representation
or magnitude). For example, redstone circuits could be viewed as analog computing in the sense
that the circuits are analogous to electronic circuits containing gates such as and, or, xor, etc.
And yet, at the bottom of the vast hierarchy of translation, we have Minecraft servers and clients
working on top of a digital substrate. In the mid 90s, I bought a Nord Lead for my synthesizer
collection, and Nord uses “virtual analog” to characterize their lineup (an analog front end
and a digital back end):


My view is that the issue of magnitude is a side-effect of “analog as analogy and, thus,
isomorphism", and thus not primary. Tangible objects when juxtaposed and configured together
to form physical analogies happen to be continuous simply because reality and our physiology
is continuous, and we employ real objects (at least in the mind) when forming analogies. This
view may need tweaking, but it seems as though the knowledge of such things is present in
this forum.

What are the thoughts on this? Is this an ongoing point of debate among historians?


Paul Fishwick, PhD
Distinguished University Chair of Arts & Technology 
   and Professor of Computer Science
Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
The University of Texas at Dallas
Arts & Technology
800 West Campbell Road, AT10
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
Blog: creative-automata.com

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