[SIGCIS-Members] documenting or diagramming human computation

McMillan, William W william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu
Wed Feb 15 14:39:25 PST 2017

Not sure if the systems analysis diagrams that appeared in force in the 1940s would count as a kind of algorithmic diagram.

I presented a paper at SHOT on this in 2005.  An excerpt: 

"By 1943, though, the Standard Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, had pioneered the use of a graphical language for modeling the flow of information in an organization. This effort, led by Ben S. Graham, Sr., was not an academic exercise, but was put into practice across the United States by a cadre of systems analysts who studied the operations of various organizations, depicted their information flows using Standard Register’s Paperwork Simplification notation, and then suggested modifications to that flow to enhance efficiency."

Not mathematical and not computerized at that point (and the human participants weren't called "computers"), but kind of algorithmy.

Never published the paper in full, but can send a copy to anyone who would like it.

- Bill

From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Paul Fishwick [metaphorz at gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 10:39 AM
To: Sigcis
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] documenting or diagramming human computation

I saw Hidden Figures this weekend, which brought back some early days for me when I worked in
Langley’s Structures Directorate as a systems analyst. After scouring the web for documents,
and reading Grier’s book, I still wonder whether the computation steps were organized in some
sort of diagram that would be used by a planner (?) to guide the human computers. I’ve also reviewed
Pickering’s legacy, the Handbook of Human Computation, and Human Computation by Law and von
Ahn. If you review Willey (1969) “Manual for Reduction of Data” by Helen H. Willey (Supervisory
Mathematician), there are many equations but no visual guides as to who does wha,t and the
structured flow of computed variables by computers.

Here is a nice NASA site with citations: https://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/historic/Human_Computers

But I do not see anything resembling a time-ordered process. Today, we might expect data flow
diagrams, business process notations, or something of the sort. What did they use back then, or
perhaps they created computational and data flow order without explicating documenting it?


Paul Fishwick, PhD
Distinguished University Chair of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication
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 1: medium.com/@metaphorz

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