[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

Pierre Mounier-Kuhn mounier at msh-paris.fr
Wed Aug 25 01:32:03 PDT 2021

Hello Doug, 

Other members (particularly Tom Haigh and Peter Eckstein) have objected already that Turing's 1936 paper Computable Numbers was essentially a solution to an abstract problem of mathematical logic, NOT the invention/project of a universal computer, which appeared a decade later in the ENIAC team and the Von Neumann reports. (Warning: You've innocently walked into a worldwide quarrel "Historians vs. Martin Davis' The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing" !) 

Yet this does not alter the main object of your query, to which the answer is definitely your option n°2. As far as I know, just like designing the first computers was essentially an engineers' effort (inventing storage devices, etc.), "people first begin hooking computers up to one another experimentally, and then a theorist subsequently created an idea to describe/frame what was happening". Peter Eckstein's message mentions Binac, which is a remarkable "first" case; it was designed by an engineers' company to solve a practical problem. 

>From what I have seen in Europe, the teams which designed early computers included telecom engineers, who quite "naturally" experimented with distant connections between a computer and a teleprinter, then imagined how to integrate computers in data networks and found a need for that in air-defense systems. An example is given in the memoirs of FH Raymond, published in 1989 in the Annals of the History of Computing , "SEA: An Adventure with a Sad Ending": This small French computer company demonstrated in 1955 a remote processing link between its Paris computer and a teleprinter installed in Brussels at a professional fair. Shortly after, Raymond wrote a report suggesting to replace, in the future, paper with electronic data in the phone directory. His company simultaneously participated in the design of computerized air-defense systems (the contract was finally won by IBM France in 1958), which brings us nearer to the interconnection of computers, not just to remote-processing. France was some 5 years behind the US and Britain in computer development, so what I describe here certainly goes for other countries. The Soviet side is particularly interesting (see "InterNyet", Sacha Gerovitch's publications, etc.) 

For more suggestions of readings, I would just copy-paste Tom Haigh's message. 
Regarding theoretical work, one could add a subsidiary question : To what extent were theoretical studies of digital networks extensions of studies about data flows within a computer (queuing problems, etc.), and what were the radically novel problems raised by digital network design? 

Pierre Mounier-Kuhn 
CNRS, Sorbonne Université & CentraleSupelec 

De: "Douglas Lucas" <dal at riseup.net> 
À: "members" <members at sigcis.org> 
Envoyé: Mardi 24 Août 2021 23:44:24 
Objet: [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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