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* [COFF] [ off topic ] History of US computing leading to 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering
@ 2024-04-27  5:19 steve jenkin
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From: steve jenkin @ 2024-04-27  5:19 UTC (permalink / raw)
  To: TUHS, Computer Old Farts Followers; +Cc: Douglas McIlroy

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Sorry for the dual list post, I don’t who monitors COFF, the proper place for this.

There may a good timeline of the early decades of Computer Science and it’s evolution at Universities in some countries, but I’m missing it.

Doug McIlroy lived through all this, I hope he can fill in important gaps in my little timeline.

It seems from the 1967 letter, defining the field was part of the zeitgeist leading up to the NATO conference.

	1949	ACM founded
	1958	First ‘freshman’ computer course in USA, Perlis @ CMU

	1960	IBM 1400 - affordable & ‘reliable’ transistorised computers arrived
	1965	MIT / Bell / General Electric begin Multics project. 
			CMU establishes Computer Sciences Dept.
	1967	“What is Computer Science” letter by Newell, Perlis, Simon 
	1968	“Software Crisis” and 1st NATO Conference
	1969	Bell Labs withdraws from Multics
	1970	GE's sells computer business, including Multics, to Honeywell
	1970	PDP-11/20 released
	1974	Unix issue of CACM


The arrival of transistorised computers - cheaper, more reliable, smaller & faster - was a trigger for the accelerated uptake of computers.

The IBM 1400-series was offered for sale in 1960, becoming the first (large?) computer to sell 10,000 units - a marker of both effective marketing & sales and attractive pricing.

The 360-series, IBM’s “bet the company” machine, was in full development when the 1400 was released.


Attached is a text file, a reformatted version of a 1967 letter to ’Science’ by Allen Newell, Alan J. Perlis, and Herbert A. Simon:

	"What is computer science?”


A 1978 masters thesis on Early Australian Computers (back to 1950’s, mainly 1960’s) cites a 17 June 1960 CSIRO report estimating
1,000 computers in the US and 100 in the UK. With no estimate mentioned for Western Europe.

The thesis has a long discussion of what to count as a (digital) ‘computer’ -
	sources used different definitions, resulting in very different numbers, 
	making it difficult to reconcile early estimates, especially across continents & countries. 

Reverse estimating to 1960 from the “10,000” NATO estimate of 1968, with a 1- or 2-year doubling time, 
gives a range of 200-1,000, including the “100” in the UK.

Licklider and later directors of ARPA’s IPTO threw millions into Computing research in the 1960’s, funding research and University groups directly.
[ UCB had many projects/groups funded, including the CSRG creating BSD & TCP/IP stack & tools ]

Obviously there was more to the “Both sides of the Atlantic” argument of E.W. Dijkstra and Alan Kay - funding and numbers of installations was very different.

The USA had a substantially larger installed base of computers, even per person,
and with more university graduates trained in programming, a higher take-up in private sector, not just the public sector and defence, was possible.



	In September 1949, a constitution was instituted by membership approval.



	In 1958, Perlis began teaching the first freshman-level computer programming course in the United States at Carnegie Tech. 

	In 1965, Carnegie Tech established its Computer Science Department with a $5 million grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation. Perlis was the first department head.


From the 1968 NATO report [pg 9 of pdf ]

	In Europe alone there are about 10,000 installed computers — this number is increasing at a rate of anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent per year. 
	The quality of software provided for these computers will soon affect more than a quarter of a million analysts and programmers.

	In 1958 a European general purpose computer manufacturer often had less than 50 software programmers, 
	now they probably number 1,000-2,000 people; what will be needed in 1978?

	_Yet this growth rate was viewed with more alarm than pride._ (comment)


Steve Jenkin, IT Systems and Design 
0412 786 915 (+61 412 786 915)
PO Box 38, Kippax ACT 2615, AUSTRALIA

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Living Computers

“What is computer science?” [ letter to 'Science' ]
Allen Newell, Alan J. Perlis, and Herbert A. Simon

More history at:


What is Computer Science?
Science 1967 (157) 1373-4

Allen Newell
Alan J. Perlis
Herbert A. Simon

Professors of computer science are often asked:
	"Is there such a thing as computer science, and if there is, what is it?"

The questions have a simple answer:

Wherever there are phenomena, there can be a science to describe and explain those phenomena.
Thus, the simplest (and correct) answer to "What is botany?" is,
	"Botany is the study of plants."
And zoology is the study of animals, astronomy the study of stars, and so on.
Phenomena breed sciences.

There are computers.
Ergo, computer science is the study of computers.
The phenomena surrounding computers are varied, complex, rich.
It remains only to answer the objections posed by many skeptics.


Objection 1. Only natural phenomena breed sciences,
    but computers are artificial, hence are whatever they are made to be,
    hence obey no invariable laws, hence cannot be described and explained.


1. The objection is patently false, since computers and computer programs are being described and explained daily.

2. The objection would equally rule out of science large portions of organic chemistry (substitute "silicones" for "computers"),
    physics (substitute "superconductivity" for "computers"),
    and even zoology (substitute "hybrid corn" for "computers").

The objection would certainly rule out mathematics,
but in any event its status as a natural science is idiosyncratic.


Objection 2. The term "computer" is not well defined,
    and its meaning will change with new developments,
    hence computer science does not have a well-defined subject matter.


The phenomena of all sciences change over time;
    the process of understanding assures that this will be the case.

Astronomy did not originally include the study of interstellar gases;
    physics did not include radioactivity;
    psychology did not include the study of animal behavior.

Mathematics was once defined as the "science of quantity."


Objection 3. Computer science is the study of algorithms (or programs), not computers.


1. Showing deeper insight than they are sometimes credited with,
   the founders of the chief professional organisation for computer science
   named it the Association for Computing Machinery.

2. In the definition, "computers" means "living computers"
   - the hardware, their programs or algorithms, and all that goes with them.
   Computer science is the study of the phenomena surrounding computers.
   "Computers plus algorithms," "living computers," or simply "computers" all come to
   the same thing - the same phenomena.


Objection 4. Computers, like thermometers, are instruments, not phenomena.
    Instruments lead away to their user sciences;
    the behaviors of instruments are subsumed as special topics in other sciences (not always the user sciences -
    electron microscopy belongs to physics, not biology).


The computer is such a novel and complex instrument that its behavior is subsumed under no other science;
    its study does not lead away to user sciences, but to further study of computers.

Hence, the computer is not just an instrument but a phenomenon as well,
requiring description and explanation.


Objection 5. Computer science is a branch of electronics (or mathematics, psychology, and so forth).


To study computers, one may need to study some or all of these.

Phenomena defines the focus of a science, not its boundaries.
Many of the phenomena of computers are also phenomena of some other science.
The existence of biochemistry denies neither the existence of biology nor of chemistry.
But all of the phenomena of computers are not subsumed under any one exiting science.


Objection 6. Computers belong to engineering, not science.


They belong to both, like electricity (physics and electrical engineering) or plants (botany and agriculture).

Time will tell what professional specialization is desirable between analysis and synthesis,
and between the pure study of computers and their application.


Computer scientists will often join hands with colleagues from other disciplines in common endeavor.

Mostly, computer scientists will study living computers with the same passion that others have studied
    plants, stars, glaciers, dyestuffs, and magnetism;
    and with the same confidence that intelligent, persistent curiosity
    will yield interesting and perhaps useful knowledge.


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