[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

petereckstein petereckstein at comcast.net
Tue Aug 24 16:52:19 PDT 2021

I apologize for jumping the gun by recalling that Eckert had told me that he had never heard of Turing. I have checked my notes on an interview from many decades ago and find no mention of Turing one way or another. I was probably thinking of what Eckert said about Babbage as his having had no influence. Now that I have read Tom Haigh's article, I do want to register one dissent.If his metaphorical trophy is for the "first general-purpose automatic electronic digital computer," I would argue that Eckert and Mauchly at least hold the American title. The Atanasoff machine was not fully automatic, as intermediate results had to be carried by hand from one part of the machine to another, and it was not designed to be general-purpose but rather to solve simultaneous equations, which the recreated machine could do,  but not nearly as fast as one of my early teenaged grandchildren. The early Aiken machines were electro-mechanical, not fundamentally electronic, in their manipulation of cardboard punch cards. One or more of the Europeans on Tom's list of trophy holders--Zuse, Kilburn, Wilkes, and especially Flowers--may have a claim, but I am not competent to judge.Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy Tablet
-------- Original message --------From: petereckstein <petereckstein at comcast.net> Date: 8/24/21  6:44 PM  (GMT-05:00) To: thomas.haigh at gmail.com, 'Douglas Lucas' <dal at riseup.net>, members at sigcis.org Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking Doug,I am a bit impatient with anything that perpetuates the It All Began with Turing mythology. I have not yet read Tom Haigh's article arguing that Turing did not invent the computer but I very much agree with the title. The leaders of the team that developed Eniac were Mauchly, a physicist, who was partly inspired by the counting circuits being used by physicists in the 1930s to count pulses, and Eckert, an electronic engineer,  who was partly inspired by devices using multiple vacuum tubes. Eckert told me very emphatically that he had never even heard of Turing during the Eniac project. Turing may have played a (small or large) role in the British wartime Colossus, but that machine had little influence on subsequent  computer development, because it was foolishly  destroyed and then kept secret for many years.I am not sure where you want to go with your project, but perhaps there is some relevance in Binac, a one-off machine that the Eckert-Mauchly company built in the late forties or very early fifties. It was two processing units connected to each other, primarily, as I remember the story, for backup rather than for communication. Nancy Stern discusses it in her book, and there have been subsequent articles in the Annals.Peter EcksteinSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy Tablet-------- Original message --------From: thomas.haigh at gmail.com Date: 8/24/21  6:14 PM  (GMT-05:00) To: 'Douglas Lucas' <dal at riseup.net>, members at sigcis.org Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking Hello Doug, First off, you’ll find that while mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists often suggest that the computers constructed in the 1940s were in some way inspired or prompted by Turing’s theoretical work, the professional historians who’ve looked at the period generally agree that they weren’t. You’ll see some pointers to relevant work in my snappy summary “Actually, Turing Did Not Invent the Computer.” https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2014/1/170862-actually-turing-did-not-invent-the-computer/fulltext The impetus to provide remote access to computers likewise came from practical needs of the 1950s and early 1960s rather than theory. Two important early examples are the SAGE air defense network, described by Paul Edwards in _The Closed World_ and timesharing at Dartmouth University (and elsewhere) to provide multiple users with simultaneous interactive access to a single computer, described by Joy Rankin in _A People’s History of Computing in the United States_. The idea of connecting several computers together for general purpose communication, rather than hooking up terminals, peripherals, or data capture devices to a single computer, came slightly later. The idea was first realized in the ARPANET, which evolved to become the Internet. A great deal has been written on its history, beginning with Janet Abbate’s classic _Inventing the Internet_. I’d also recommend Mitch Waldrop’s _The Dream Machine_ for a broader look at interactive computing, timesharing, and networking in the era.  In this case there was a conceptual work that predated and heavily influenced the actual network: Paul Baran’s description of what became known as packet switching. Though the relative conceptual contributions of Paul Baran, Leonard Kleinrock, and Louis Pouzin to the ideas that underlie these networks have been enthusiastically debated. You might look at the articles published in the journal Internet Histories, including several relevant publications by Morton Bay, for more on this topic. See https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rint20. Also Andrew Russell’s _Open Standards and the Digital Age_. And many others – it’s a substantial literature, much too large to describe in a single message, but if you want to know about the history of networking you should read on this topic rather than about Turing…. Best wishes, Tom From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> On Behalf Of Douglas LucasSent: Tuesday, August 24, 2021 4:44 PMTo: members at sigcis.orgSubject: [SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking Dear SIGCIS members,I'm a freelance writer/journalist who's published in multiple news outlets on hacktivism and who's lurked on this email list for some time. The past several months, I've been reading a great dealing about Alan Turing and the math behind Computable Numbers (fundamental theorem of arithmetic, Gödel encoding, etc). A fairly straightforward question occurred to me, one I hope this list can help answer:As is well known, Turing's 1936 paper Computable Numbers invented the concept of a universal machine, which includes what today would be called an airgapped computer. For quite a while, all computers (universal machines) were airgapped devices. The historical casual chain is clear: first the idea documented in Computable Numbers came into existence, and only later are physical computers actually built, initially as standalone, airgapped devices.But how did plugging computers into one another with wires/cables begin? Did a thinker first conceive of a profound idea underpinning wired/cabled networking, and then only later, engineers implemented that concept in the physical realm? Or, did people first begin hooking computers up to one another, perhaps experimentally, and then a theorist subsequently created an idea to describe/frame what was happening (maybe a mathematical graph theory or something)?To put it another way, in terms of a simple standardized test-like verbal analogy, Computable Numbers is to airgapped computers as ??? is to wired/cabled networking of computers.I omit wireless connections (e.g., Bluetooth) for the time being.Thanks much,Doug Lucas
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