[SIGCIS-Members] The latest inventor of the computer

david nofre d.nofre at gmail.com
Fri Mar 24 08:17:09 PDT 2017


David,

That's the question, right: to which extent can we explain the emergence 
of computer science only based on sociological explanations (search for 
professional and academic legitimation) or simply noting its conceptual 
borrowings from the mathematical logic of the 1920s and 1930s? On the 
other hand, as Tom notes, it seems clear that the lack of a history of 
computer science facilitates its conflation with the history of 
computing, both in popular and academic discourse, and allows computer 
scientists, logicians, and philosophers, to persevere with their 
foundational myths. The Turing centenary has clearly shown, if anything, 
how much we need to move on, turncommon assumptions into research 
questions, and start writing a history of computer science that differs 
from that of the computer, that of computing practices, and that of 
mathematical logic.

Cheers,

David


On 24-03-17 14:02, David C. Brock wrote:
> JS: That’s really funny!
>
> But I do wish to note that it is my impression that for Computer 
> Science the debt owed to philosophy in the guise of foundations of 
> mathematics and formal logic goes beyond the construction of a 
> foundation myth or the legitimation of a discipline. I take it that 
> the work of Church, Turing, Post, et al. was actually a central 
> resource in forming the practice and agendas of computer science to 
> the present. But maybe I’m wrong?
>
>> On Mar 24, 2017, at 5:41 AM, James Sumner 
>> <james.sumner at manchester.ac.uk 
>> <mailto:james.sumner at manchester.ac.uk>> wrote:
>>
>> These days, on encountering any news story or feature that seems to 
>> be touting a particularly bizarre claim, I try to make sure I look at 
>> the text without reference to the headline, which is often 
>> constructed by a subeditor without input or right of veto from the 
>> author. (Same applies to standfirsts, where these are used: I have 
>> seen some particularly mad examples of this form, even when both the 
>> headline and article are restrained.) As Tom points out, Chris 
>> Dixon's /Atlantic/ piece has its problems, but is considerably saner 
>> than its headline.
>>
>> "How Aristotle Created the Computer" has an unfortunate ring of 
>> self-parody for anyone familiar with technological precursoritis. I 
>> was reminded of a line from the /TVGoHome/ book: "Recent 
>> archaeological digs have unearthed evidence of a primitive Inca 
>> television set. Unlike modern units it had no screen, and resembled a 
>> decorative cup. Instead of broadcasting programmes, historians 
>> believe it was mainly used for drinking liquid."
>>
>> JS
>>
>>
>> On 23 Mar 17 21:39, Seamus Sweeney wrote:
>>> As often happens, dear old Ireland can claim an even earlier 
>>> invention:  - https://csiweb.ucd.ie/content/symbol-vec-newgrange
>>>
>>> Over 5000 years ago tomb builders in the Boyne Valley constructed, 
>>> possibly, the first optical computer in the world using the main 
>>> tomb at Newgrange.  Every winter solstice the light at dawn on the 
>>> horizon shines through a unique box-like structure over the main 
>>> entrance, down the passage to the very back of the tomb; indicating 
>>> very precisely the time of the the year. While the outer stones of 
>>> the Newgrange tumulus are artistically decorated with spirals and 
>>> losenges, the meaning of which is unknown, the reverse side of these 
>>> kerb stones have less well-executed symbols (dot patterns, diamonds, 
>>> spirals, losenges and so on) which are assumed to have some symbolic 
>>> meaning. The aim of this project is to use the word2vec system to 
>>> analyse the co-occurrence structure of these symbols with a view to 
>>> saying something about the similarities between different stones 
>>> and/or sites. Several current analyses have been carried out, based 
>>> on percentages of coverage of certain symbols on given stones, but 
>>> an extensive and complete analysis has yet to be carried out. Using 
>>> an analogy to documents, each tomb can be treated as a document, 
>>> each stone as a sentence and each symbol as a work.   The aim of the 
>>> system would be to detemine statistically what symbols tend to 
>>> co-occur with other symbols at different locations.
>>>
>>> On 23 March 2017 at 21:34, Thomas Haigh <thomas.haigh at gmail.com 
>>> <mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>>
>>>     That’s precisely why my CACM article had the tag line
>>>     “Separating the origins of computer science and technology.”
>>>     Computer science comes along later, and assembles its
>>>     foundations long after actual electronic computers already
>>>     exist. The mistake that computer scientists and philosophers
>>>     make is in assuming that the development of actual computers
>>>     must have been driven by the availability of abstract models.
>>>     That reflects their general disdain for engineering and actual
>>>     history. In reality, people built computers first and worried
>>>     about how to legitimate a discipline around their study later.
>>>
>>>
>>>     An article called “How Aristotle Created Computer Science” would
>>>     be making an enormously different claim from one titled “How
>>>     Aristotle Created the Computer.” However, any such article would
>>>     need to be about the 1950s and 60s, that being when the various
>>>     intellectual and institutional things that were integrated to
>>>     form the foundations of computer science were actually assembled.
>>>
>>>
>>>     Tom
>>>
>>>     *From:*David C. Brock [mailto:dcb at dcbrock.net
>>>     <mailto:dcb at dcbrock.net>]
>>>     *Sent:* Thursday, March 23, 2017 4:21 PM
>>>     *To:* Thomas Haigh <thomas.haigh at gmail.com
>>>     <mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>>
>>>     *Cc:* David Brock <dcb at dcbrock.net <mailto:dcb at dcbrock.net>>;
>>>     Len Shustek <len at shustek.com <mailto:len at shustek.com>>;
>>>     members at lists.sigcis.org <mailto:members at lists.sigcis.org>
>>>     *Subject:* Re: [SIGCIS-Members] The latest inventor of the computer
>>>
>>>
>>>     But couldn’t one argue that computer science owes a huge debt to
>>>     philosophy, particularly foundations of mathematics and formal
>>>     logic? My impression is that debt is under-paid and not that
>>>     widely appreciated.
>>>
>>>
>>>         On Mar 23, 2017, at 4:48 PM, Thomas Haigh
>>>         <thomas.haigh at gmail.com <mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>>
>>>
>>>         Better than the title, perhaps, but everything is relative.
>>>
>>>
>>>         To be fair, the article is doubling down on a version of
>>>         computer history that is quite popular, particularly among
>>>         non-historians. Given the reach of Davis’ book, not to
>>>         mention Hofstadter, I’m not sure that all this is as unusual
>>>         approach as the opening implies. My views on all this are on
>>>         record in the CACM article “Actually, Turing Did Not Invent
>>>         The
>>>         Computer.”http://www.tomandmaria.com/Tom/Writing/CACMActuallyTuringDidNotInventTheComputer.pdf
>>>         <http://www.tomandmaria.com/Tom/Writing/CACMActuallyTuringDidNotInventTheComputer.pdf>
>>>
>>>
>>>         If you believe Copeland, Davis, and others who think that
>>>         Turing invented the so-called "stored program" computer in
>>>         1936, then why not cut out the middle man? Going up the
>>>         chain and handing the whole thing to Aristotle is only
>>>         slightly more of a stretch. Dixon clearly does believe the
>>>         Davis/Copeland version:
>>>
>>>
>>>         In contrast to Shannon’s paper, Turing’s paper is highly
>>>         technical. Its primary historical significance lies not in
>>>         its answer to the decision problem,  but in the template for
>>>         computer design it provided along the way….
>>>
>>>
>>>         Turing showed how a program could be stored inside a
>>>         computer alongside the data upon which it operates. In
>>>         today’s vocabulary, we’d say that he invented the
>>>         “stored-program” architecture that underlies most modern
>>>         computers. [skipping quote from Davis] This was the first
>>>         rigorous demonstration that any computing logic that could
>>>         be encoded in hardware could also be encoded in software.
>>>         The architecture Turing described was later dubbed the “Von
>>>         Neumann architecture” — but modern historians generally
>>>         agree it came from Turing, as, apparently, did Von Neumann
>>>         himself.
>>>
>>>
>>>         Asserting that "modern historians generally agree" that the
>>>         von Neumann architecture came from Turing’s paper seems like
>>>         a rather dubious claim to me. Particularly if you read
>>>         Turing’s paper and look for a von Neumann architecture in
>>>         it. At the Early Digital workshop in January I raised the
>>>         question explicitly with a fairly good sampling of “modern
>>>         historians” and nobody present supported the idea.
>>>
>>>
>>>         Another exaggeration: “Turing joined a secret unit at
>>>         Bletchley Park, northwest of London, where he helped design
>>>         computers that were instrumental in breaking German codes.”
>>>         Bombes weren’t computers, and Turing didn’t help to design
>>>         Colossus (which personally I don’t think was a computer
>>>         either, but that’s more controversial).
>>>
>>>
>>>         People in the comments section seem to like it, but in an
>>>         unusually highbrow example of internet discourse are calling
>>>         out for more attention to the anitkythera device,
>>>         Chrysippus, Pierce, Polish bombe creators, Thomas Aquinas,
>>>         etc. Nobody seems to be objecting to the Turing claim,
>>>         though someone does take the opportunity to insult Ada Lovelace.
>>>
>>>
>>>         Best wishes,
>>>
>>>
>>>         Tom
>>>
>>>
>>>         -----Original Message-----
>>>         From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org
>>>         <mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org>] On Behalf Of Len
>>>         Shustek
>>>         Sent: Thursday, March 23, 2017 3:11 PM
>>>         To:members at lists.sigcis.org <mailto:members at lists.sigcis.org>
>>>         Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] The latest inventor of the computer
>>>
>>>
>>>         We're fully engaged in the invention of email, but we
>>>         haven't had any new inventors of the computer in a while.
>>>         The Atlantic is helping with that: "How Aristotle Created
>>>         the Computer".
>>>
>>>         https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/03/aristotle-computer/518697/
>>>         <https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/03/aristotle-computer/518697/>
>>>
>>>         The article is rather better than its title.
>>>
>>>
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