[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

Willard McCarty willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Aug 24 23:19:44 PDT 2021

Dear Doug,

For the networking of computers, consider, for example, Turing's 
off-the-cuff remark to a London Times reporter about a computer writing 
sonnets for another computer, which suggests machines communicating 
directly with each other: London Times, 11 June 1949, quoted and 
discussed in Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing, the Enigma (2014/1983), 510f. 
For another, see "G.E. to use 2 'brains'" in the New York Times, 30 
December 1954, about a "four-way hook-up for the rapid processing of 
engineering and research problems on two giant electronic 'brains'". But 
these are only two instances I found accidentally in the course of 
looking for something else.

I suspect that the NYT instance has more than a little to do with early 
automation, which in origin was all about a shift from individual 
operations of separate machines to a continuous process of manufacture 
controlled by what we'd call a computer (in the newspapers, 'brain'). 
Another (as has been mentioned) is person-to-person or 
station-to-station communications; see, for example, Mountbatten's 
expansive address to the British Institution of Radio Engineers, 
reported in the London Times, 1 November 1946  in "An electronic brain 
solving abstruse problems: Valves with memory", where war-time 
communications and the new 'brains' share the same column. A much older 
source is Victorian projections of the human nervous and circulatory 
systems, for which see a brief mention on p. 31 in my "Residue of 
uniqueness", Historical Social Research 37.3 (2012), 24-45, esp. Laura 
Otis' Networking: Communicating with Bodies and Machines in the 
Nineteenth Century (2001).

I hope this helps.


On 24/08/2021 22:44, Douglas Lucas wrote:
> 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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Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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