Truth has a way of coming out at the unlikeliest moment. The decision on the case of Sperry Rand vs. Honeywell was one such moment. On February 15, 1946, the existence of the previously classified ENIAC became front-page news in The New York Times. To many, this marks the start of the electronic computer age. 27 years will pass after the ENIAC was first unveiled to the world until Judge Larson’s decision was published in 1973 stating that the ENIAC patent was invalid on the basis of derivation. Let’s look at the events as they unfolded culminating in the watershed decision. (more…)
Researching for the post on the ENIAC, I came across a small paragraph mentioning the women programmers who had programmed the ENIAC, but were totally ignored and forgotten to the extent that they were not mentioned in any of the press releases, they were not invited even for the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the ENIAC(which happened in the socially aware times of 1996!). There was a story lurking under the surface. I did not expect too much of content to be available on the net. So, I wanted to do a short piece on them. Boy, was I wrong! There were oodles and oodles of content on the net about the ENIAC programmers. I was overwhelmed by the quality and the quantity of the content. I have tried my best to curate as much content as possible.
The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was a revolutionary machine for its time. It was one of the early computers to have been designed. It was state-of-the-art for that era. Dubbed “Giant Brain” by the press, it was the most advanced technology available to mankind at that time. ENIAC was also the harbinger of the computer era and spawned an entire industry, which will have a profound influence on the future of humans.
How do you classify an electronic digital computing device that is neither programmable nor Turing-complete (Turing-complete means a general or universal computing machine which does not perform only specialized functions)? The sad answer is you don’t. The invention remains obscure and falls by the wayside. Only to be redeemed by the fame of a later computer which used the very same principles to create a whole new industry. This folks, is the story of the Atanasoff-Berry computer (also called the ABC computer) conceived by a mathematics and physics professor, one John Vincent Atanasoff, at the Iowa State College, way back in 1937. (more…)
History is a fickle judge. In spite of colossal achievements, some are consigned to the dustbin of history due to circumstances which are not under their control. Tommy Flowers and his creation, the Colossus was one of them. He built the world’s first ‘programmable digital computer’ and helped save millions of lives and reduce the World War II by 2 years. Considerable achievement by any standards. Worthy of fame, recognition and riches. Only, in Flowers case his achievements were not even acknowledged for the better part of 30 years because it was classified information and worse still was attributed to others. Recognition came almost as an afterthought at the beginning of a new century, when his invention was re-built in 2004. Some recognition after all, is better than nothing. Let us look at the extra-ordinary story of Colussus and its creator. (more…)
To be acknowledged a genius and celebrated as one during one’s own lifetime is rare. John von Neumann was one of them. In fact, he was even compared to the great Einstein, who incidentally was his colleague in Princeton and a fellow member of the Manhattan project, which produced the atom bomb. The article, This Hungarian-American Mathematician May Have Been Smarter Than Einstein claims he may have been smarter than Einstein in certain areas. (more…)
We all are a product of our times. Our interests, achievements and expectations of the future happens in the context of the times we live in. Consequently, most of us don’t see beyond the present and even our predictions of the future are coloured by our present times. Occasionally, there comes along a man or woman who sees further than anybody else of his/her generation. Alan Turing was one of them. Though he was largely ignored during his own lifetime and even perhaps hounded for his sexual tendencies, leading to his tragic death at a relatively young age his theories had such far reaching implications. It is difficult to imagine whether his universal computing machine would have been conceived by someone else if he had not done it. (more…)
What is singularity?
Merriam Webster dictionary defines singularity as, “a point at which the derivative of a given function of a complex variable does not exist but every neighborhood of which contains points for which the derivative does exist”(Nope, I too have no idea what it means) and “a point or region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole”(Not any closer to the definition we are looking for). (more…)
Technology has made huge strides in the last century than at any other point in the life of humans. We can safely say that we are much more advanced than what we were before even 5 years. It has come to such a pass that we have become a part of technology as much as technology becoming a part of us. But, we don’t have a standard or a scale to measure our progress against. Are we technologically that advanced? How do we measure how advanced we really are? Considering our current state of technological progress, how far can we really advance? In fact, scientists, sociologists and anthropologists have wrestled with these questions for long, to understand the past, make sense of the present and predict the future. One thing they all seem to be agreeing upon is the pre-eminence of technological progress in driving the development of human civilization. (more…)
Technology is ubiquitous in today’s world. As a not very tech savvy person, I am worried about the constant intrusion of technology in my daily life and wonder how to deal with it. Working in a job that requires me to not only update myself on a regular basis on technology, but also pose as some kind of technology expert, worries me. I don’t know how many of you out there find themselves in the same predicament. (more…)