Christie's auction and other computer history events

From: Tom Jennings <>
Date: Thu Feb 17 15:17:20 2005

On Thu, 17 Feb 2005, Eric Smith wrote:

> Several of the developers of early computers said in interviews in the
> 1970s and later that they had been unaware of Babbage's work. I don't
> have references handy. I think this may have been mentioned in Ceruzzi's
> "A History of Modern Computing", but without looking it up I can't be
> certain.

Cerruzzi is well-quoted, but he is merely propagating,
unquestioned, stuff he got from Goldstine and others. He didn't
read much original materials. I know he's deeply involved in the
SMithonian etc but there's a lot of politics involved in history.

Read Burks' book "Who invented the computer?" (2001). Wife of
Arthur, I'm embarrassed I can't recall her first name.

She is grinding axes for Attanasoff; even so she references a lot
of source material.

> Babbage's machines were nearly an evolutionary dead end. A few related
> machines were made in the nineteenth century, and vaguely similar
> mechanisms were used in some mechanical calculators in the twentieth
> century, but the concepts generally were not used by the early computers.

True, but tech didn't leap from 1730 to 1950 in one step; a lot of
mechanical and electrical calculating devices were directly
influenced. (ENIACs accumulators were literally that -- counters
that accumulated sums, same as Babbage's machines, for example.
There were a lot of mechanical solutions that got implemented in
electronics (tubes) even though today it's laughably silly.

> For instance, the analytical engine would have been the first stored-
> program computer, but the concept was independently reinvented in
> the twentieth century and described by von Neuman. It has come to
> be known as "von Neuman architecture", though there is some
> controversy regarding how much of it was really invented by him.
> Had the people involved been aware of Babbage's work, it would have
> been known as "Babbage architecture" instead.

That stored-prog ref to Babbage is actualyl from a single note of
Lovelace's, though there's reason to believe Babbage was aware of
self-modification. HOwever, it wasnt' described formally by him.

It's reasonably safe to say that by 1945, using one memory for
data and instructions was "obvious". If you don't include non-Americans
in this thread it's considered cheating :-)

> Also Ada Byron Lovelace is now credited with inventing the subroutine,
> for use with the analytical engine, but it was independently reinvented
> in the twentieth century by several people unfamilar with her work.

You're correct here! So many people have so many axes to grind...
and people get starry-eyed with wonder at things they don't

I'm (attempting to) read a bio on Norbert Weiner, but it suffers
from this problem; his work was complex, but I think the authors
either don't understand it or are so afraid of scaring readers
they essentially have him inventing everything. It's irritating.
Received on Thu Feb 17 2005 - 15:17:20 GMT

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