[SIGCIS-Members] on the nature of analog computing

Willard McCarty willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 7 08:08:45 PST 2014

Charles Care's argument in his book, Technology for Modelling (Springer, 
2010) and "Early Computational Modelling: Physical Models, Electrical 
Analogies and Analogue Computers" (in Ways of Thinking, Ways of Seeing, 
ed. Bissell and Dillon, 2012) is essentially that the 'analogue' 
referred to the instantiation of an analogy until engineers, in need of 
a term to describe continuous vs discrete signals, co-opted it, which 
then made it an antonym of 'digital'. Attention was thus fixated on two 
opposed kinds of hardware rather than on "the continuity of practice" 
(i.e. modelling) which they shared. (Did not Newell's and Simon's 
symbol-system hypothesis highlight the analogical character of digital 
computing?) Terminology remained fluid long enough for the resulting 
confusion to be reflected in the 1950 Macy Conference, for which see 
Claus Pias' edition.

Have there been any responses to Care's argument?


On 07/11/2014 15:22, Paul Fishwick wrote:
> 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):
> http://www.nordkeyboards.com/products/nord-lead-2x
> 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
> 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 <http://utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick>
> Blog: creative-automata.com <http://creative-automata.com>
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Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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