[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

Brian Berg brianberg at gmail.com
Wed Aug 25 08:43:10 PDT 2021


Dear all,

Thomas Haigh, who is on this thread, helped myself and a team of 4 British
historians on this "first stored-program computer" topic re: the
Williams-Kilburn SSEM (aka "Baby") computer as built at the Univ. of
Manchester.  Numerous adjectives are required for each of various computers
to correctly justify this claim.  You can see the result of Thomas'
crafting of this delicate matter in the IEEE Milestone proposal for the
SSEM here
<http://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/Milestone-Proposal:The_Manchester_University_%27Baby%27_computer;_Small-Scale_Experimental_Machine_(SSEM)>
-
and note the very extensive documentation, including on the Comments page
linked at the top of that webpage.

The bronze plaque for this IEEE Milestone will (hopefully) be dedicated
next June 2022 in Manchester, with this citation:

*Manchester University "Baby" Computer and its Derivatives, 1948-1951*
*At this site on 21 June 1948 the “Baby” became the first computer to
execute a program stored in addressable read-write electronic memory.
“Baby” validated Williams-Kilburn Tube random-access memories, later widely
used, and led to the 1949 Manchester Mark I which pioneered index
registers. In February 1951, Ferranti Ltd's commercial derivative became
the first electronic computer marketed as a standard product delivered to a
customer.*

Note that the machine was built to validate the viability of the
Williams-Kilburn Tube as a random-access memory device - and this humble
intent re: this CRT-based memory device created a landmark computer, and
vaulted the Univ. of Manchester into history.  This tube device was
patented, and licensed to IBM and other UK and US manufacturers as a RAM
device in the 1950s, preceding core memory.
_________________________
Brian A. Berg / bberg at StanfordAlumni.org
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On Tue, Aug 24, 2021 at 6:11 PM Brian E Carpenter <
brian.e.carpenter at gmail.com> wrote:

> If the trophy is for a stored-program machine, to me Zuse's claim is
> dubious and Williams+Kilburn get it (but the EDVAC *design* got it first on
> paper).
>
> Regards
>    Brian Carpenter
> (biased, of course, by having been a grad student in Kilburn's department
> in the 1960s.)
>
> On 25-Aug-21 11:52, petereckstein wrote:
> > 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 Eckstein
> >
> > Sent 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
> <
> 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 <
> 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 Lucas
> > *Sent:* Tuesday, August 24, 2021 4:44 PM
> > *To:* members at sigcis.org
> > *Subject:* [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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