Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 470. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 2019-02-17 08:16:14+00:00 From: Willard McCarty
Subject: commercialisation of computing Reliable histories of computing, such as the few I list below, make the point that in order for the very expensive technical research and development of digital computing to proceed, the machine had to be commercialised. (This meant, among other things, that a persuasive need for computers, which represented a major investment for any business, had to be dreamt up and made so attractive that resistance would become futile. Much hype ensued. We wouldn't have what we have without it. Whether we should is another one of those moral mazes. Some here will know the entertaining story of IBM's promulgation of the phrase "fast moron" (and synonyms) to describe the computers during this early period. The widely publicised success of Arthur Samuel's checkers-playing software and other such developments had, it seemed, so spooked the public with fears of computers replacing humans that IBM in turn feared loss of sales. So the order went out to salesmen. For the story see Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think (1979), p. 159f. (Alas, I have never found confirmation of this story anywhere else, though the phrase in question is well attested. For the sophistication of Samuel's checkersplayer, see John Holland, Emergence: From Chaos to Order, Chapter 4.) Even more serious is the matter of our indebtedness to the military imperatives of warfare that came before commercialisation. Without our beloved machine the hydrogen bomb wouldn't have been possible. Without it and its precedessor would Humanist and the machine I am using to write this ever have happened? We could argue this at great length, but my point is the inextricable relation of digital computing with Dwight Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex". Perhaps someone here will be able to comment knowledgeably on the very long history of inventions made for warfare that were then domesticated and helped us humans live better, or at least longer and more comfortable, lives? "Swords into plowshares" is the only answer I can think of. But meanwhile it is a healthy move, I think, to read enough history to realise how involved we are. Here are some suggestions; others most welcome. Agar, Jon. The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer. MIT Press, 2003. Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray. Compter: A History of the Information Machine. Basic Books, 1996. Ceruzzi, Paul E. A History of Modern Computing. MIT Press, 1999. Cortada, James W. IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon. MIT Press, 2019. Mahoney, Michael S. Histories of Computing. Ed. Thomas Haigh. Harvard University Press, 2011. Pratt, Vernon. Thinking Machines: The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence. Basil Blackwell, 1987. Yours, WM -- Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org) _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: email@example.com List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
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