[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

Douglas Lucas dal at riseup.net
Tue Aug 24 23:34:58 PDT 2021

Thank you for the helpful answer and all the great citations!

On 2021-08-24 23:19, Willard McCarty wrote:
> 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.
> Yours,
> WM
> 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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