[SIGCIS-Members] The latest inventor of the computer

Stephen Cass stephen.cass at gmail.com
Sat Mar 25 13:48:28 PDT 2017


"Science usually precedes the formal and systematic application of science.  As
craft develops in a parallel thread, commercial interests (or military
interests?) and production lead to the joining of all these threads to
produce true engineering."

I would actually take this a step further and argue that has only been *at
all* true relatively recently, i.e. within the last few centuries, reaching
its greatest apotheosis in the development of atomic weapons, where we went
from some highly abstruse physics to strategic weapon systems within a few
decades. Even today, it is only true some of the time. A linear model of
technological progress (although popular with scientific advocacy
organizations like, say, the American [Insert Discipline Here] Society), where
fundamental research funding goes in one end and consumer electronics or
clinical therapies pop out the other end, is only a partial picture at
least, and discounts the existence of engineering research as anything
other than some pale version of applied science. (One could write at length
about the social implications of the hierarchy thus conjured, but let's put
a pin in that for now.)

For example, we didn't develop thermodynamics, and then work out steam
engines. That technology was already flourishing and maturing, and the
Industrial Revolution well under way, before Carnot turned his attention to
internal and external combustion engines. Telegraphy and telephony were
vigorous, commercially vital, and world-spanning technologies long before
Claude Shannon birthed Information Theory as we know it on Ma Bell's dime.
In our current era, general anesthesia is another banner example. General
anesthesia is a mature technology—you can go to a hospital and get safely
put under for just however long is required. Yet we have no scientific idea
how it works—rather, studies of the application of anesthesia is being used
to fuel neuroscience.

This is not to say that thermodynamics and information theory were not
vital to later development of combustion engines or telecom networks, or
that neuroscience discoveries will not led to better anesthetics, but
simply to say that science exists as one potential feedback loop among
several in technological development, and the whole shebang need not be
initiated or paralleled by scientific research to develop to a "true"
engineering stage.

Stephen




On Sat, Mar 25, 2017 at 12:47 PM, McMillan, William W <
william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu> wrote:

> Mary Shaw of Carnegie Mellon published an article in 1990 in IEEE Software
> that is an excellent discussion about the development of engineering from
> craft, production, science, and commerce.
>
> I think it's relevant to this discussion.  Saying that Turing invented the
> (apparently misnamed) von Neumann architecture is a bit like saying that
> James Clerk Maxwell invented the telegraph.
>
> Science usually precedes the formal and systematic application of
> science.  As craft develops in a parallel thread, commercial interests (or
> military interests?) and production lead to the joining of all these
> threads to produce true engineering.
>
> There was a lot of craft and production in the development of computing
> before they merged with formal theory to form computer science.
>
> Shaw's article: "Prospects for an Engineering Discipline of Software"
> http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/52.60586
>
> (An argument can be made that the development of Algol and structured
> programing is an exception.  I presented a paper on this at 4S in 2007.)
>
> - Bill
>
> ________________________________________
> From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of David
> Hemmendinger [hemmendd at union.edu]
> Sent: Friday, March 24, 2017 3:16 PM
> To: dcb at dcbrock.net
> Cc: members at lists.sigcis.org
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] The latest inventor of the computer
>
> >Would you (or someone else reading this) happen to have a good
> >bibliography on the history of computer science -- such as it exists
> >that could be shared with me (this list)?
>
> I can recommend several articles on the (internalist) history
> of formal languages, automata theory, and recursive functions. They
> have further bibliographies that may be helpful. Parts of the articles
> are somewhat technical.
> The first three are from the Annals 3:1 (1981), special issue on
> the theory of computing:
>
> Sheila Greibach, Formal Languages: Origins and Directions, pp 14-41
> Juris Hartmanis, Observations About the Development of Theoretical
> Computer Science, pp 42-51
> Stephen Kleene, Origins of Recursive Function Theory, pp 52-67.
> Lance Fortnow & Steve Homer, A Short History of Computational Complexity,
> Bulletin of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science,
> 2003; https://people.cs.uchicago.edu/~fortnow/papers/history.pdf .
>
>
> David Hemmendinger hemmendd at union.edu
> Professor Emeritus http://athena.union.edu/~hemmendd
> Computer Science Dept. +1 518 346 4489
> Union College, Schenectady, NY 12308 FAX: +1 518 388 6789
> Associate Editor-in-chief, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
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