The History of Computing in the History of Technology Michael S. Mahoney Program in History of Science Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (Annals of the History of Computing 10(1988), 113-125) After surveying the current state of the literature in the history of computing, this paper discusses some of the major issues addressed by recent work in the history of technology. It suggests aspects of the development of computing which are pertinent to those issues and hence for which that recent work could provide models of historical analysis. As a new scientific technology with unique features, computing in turn can provide new perspectives on the history of technology. Introduction record-keeping by a new industry of data processing. As a primary vehicle of Since World War II 'information' has emerged communication over bo th space and t ime, it as a fundamental scientific and technological has come to form the core of modern concept applied to phenomena ranging from information technolo gy. What the black holes to DNA, from the organization of English-speaking world refers to as "computer cells to the processes of human thought, and science" is known to the rest of western from the management of corporations to t he Europe as informatique (or Informatik or allocation of global resources. In addition to informatica). Much of the concern over reshaping established disciplines, it has information as a commodity and as a natural stimulated the formation of a panoply of new resource derives from the computer and from subjects and areas of inquiry concerned with computer-based communications technolo gy. 1 its structure and its role in nature and society Hence, the history of the computer and of (Machlup and Mansfeld 1983). Theories based computing is central to that of information on the concept of 'information' have so science and technology, providing a thread by permeated modern culture that it now is which to maintain bearing while exploring the widely taken to characterize our times. We ever-growing maze of disciplines and live in an 'information society', an 'age of subdisciplines that claim information as their information'. Indeed, we look to models of subject. information processing to explain our own Despite the pervasive presence of patterns of thought. computing in modern science and technology, The computer has played the central not to mention modern society itself, the ro le in that tr ansfo rmat ion, both history of computing has yet to establish a accommodating and encouraging ever broader significant presence in the history of science views of 'information' and of how it can be transformed and communicated over time and space. Since the 1950s the computer has 1 To characterize the unprecedented capabilities of replaced traditional methods of accounting and computers linked to telecommunications, Nora and Minc (1978) coined the term télématique. Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 2 and technology. Meetings of the History of either through regular surveys of the state and Science Society and the Society for the development of various fields (e.g. Rosen History of Technology in recent years have 1967, Sammet 1969)3 or compilations of included very few sessions devoted seminal papers (Randell 1982; Yourdon 1979, specifically to history of computing, and few 1982; AT&T 1987),4 or through of the thematic sessions have included reminiscences and retrospectives, either contributions from the perspective of written directly or transcribed from their computing. There is clearly a balance to be contributions to conferences and symposia.5 redressed here. Biographies of men or machines --some The status of the history of comput ing heroic, some polemical, some both-- are a within the history of technology surely reflects prominent genre, and one reads a lot about on both parties, but the bulk of the task of "pioneers". A few corporate histories have redress lies with the former. A look at the appeared, most notably IBM's Early literature shows that, by and large, histo rians Computers (Bashe et al. 1986), but they too of computing are addressing few of the are in-house productions. questions that historians of technology are This literature represents for the most now asking. It is worth looking at what those part "insider" history, full of facts and firsts. questions are and what form they might take While it is first-hand and expert, it is also when addressed to computing. The question is guided by the current state of knowledge and how to bring the history of computing into line bound by the professional culture. That is, its with what should be its parent discipline. authors take as givens (often technical givens) Doing so will follow a two-way street: t he what a more critical, outside viewer might see history of co mputing should use models from as choices. Reading their accounts makes it the history of techno logy at t he same time that difficult to see the alternatives, as the authors we use the history of computing to test those themselves lose touch with a time when they models. In so me aspects, at least, comput ing did not know what they now know. In the long poses some of the major questions of the run, most of this literature will become primary history of technology in special ways. Both sources, if not of the development of fields have much to learn from the other. computing per se, then of its emerging culture. From the outset, the computer Computing's Present History attracted the attention of journalists, who by the late '50s were beginning to recount its Where the current literature in the history of history. The result is a sizable inventory of computing is self-consciously historical, it focuses in large part on hardware and on the 3 pre-history and early development of the Many of the articles in Computing Surveys, begun in 1969, include an historical review of the subject. computer.2 Where it touches on later developments or provides a wider view, it is 4 The 25th-anniversary issues of the leading journals only incidentally historical. A major portion of also contain useful collections of importan t articles. the literature stems from the people involved, 5 Wexelblatt (1981), a record of the 1978 ACM Conference on the History of Programming Lan guages, is an excellent exampl e, as is a recent issue of the 2 See Aspray (1984) for a recent, brief survey of the Annals of the History of Computing on the Burroughs state of the field. B5000. Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 3 accounts having the virtues and vices of the that has grown exponentially in size and journalist's craft. They are vivid, they capture variety, looking not so much like an uncharted the spirit of the people and of the institutions ocean as like a trackless jungle. We pace on they portray, and they have an eye for the the edge, pondering where to cut in. telling anecdote. But their immediacy comes at the price of perspective. Written by people The Questions of the History of more or less knowledgeable about the subject Technology and about t he history of technology, these accounts tend t o focus on the unusual and the The state of the literature in history of spectacular, be it people or lines of research, computing emerges perhaps more clearly by and they often cede to the self-evaluation of comparison (and by contrast) with what is their subjects. Thus the microcomput er and currently appearing in the history of artificial intelligence have had the lion's share technology in general and with the questions of attention, as their advocates have roared a that have occupied historians of technology succession of millenia. over the past decade or so. Those questions The journalistic accounts veer into derive from a clust er of seminal articles by another major portion of the literature on George S. Daniels, Edwin T. Layton, Jr., computing, namely what may be called "social Eugene S. Ferguson, Nathan Rosenberg, and impact statements". Often difficult to Thomas P. Hughes, among others. How has distinguish from futurist musing on the the relatio nship between science and computer, the discussions of the effects of the technology changed and developed over time computer on society and its various activities and place? How has engineering evolved, tend on the whole to view computing apart both as an intellectual activity and as a social from the history of technology rather than role? Is technology the creator of demand or from its perspective. Histo ry here serves the a response to it? Put another way, does purpose of social analysis, criticism, and technology follow a society's momentum or commentary. Hence much of it comes from redirect it by external impulse?6 How far does popular accounts taken uncritically and economics go in explaining technological episodically to support non-historical, often innovation and development? How do new polemical, theses. Some of this literature rests technologies establish themselves in society, on a frankly political agenda; whether its and how does society adapt to them? To what models and modes of analysis provide insight extent and in what ways do societies engender depends on whether one agrees with that new technologies? What are the patterns by agenda. which technology is transferred from one Finally, there is a small body of culture to another? What role do governments professionally historical work, dealing for the play in fostering and directing technological most part with the origins of the computer, its invention and early development (e.g. Stern 1981, Ceruzzi 1982, Williams 1986). It is 6 George Daniels (1 970) put th e question as an meant as no denigration of that work to note assertion (p.6): "... the real effect of technical that it stops at the point where computing inn ovation [has been] to help American s do better what they had already shown a marked inclination to becomes a significant presence in science, do." The seemin g "social lag" in ada pting t o new technology, and society. There historians stand techn ology, he argued, is more likely economic in before the daunting complexity of a subject natur e. Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 4 innovation and development? These are some then or has seemed since. Daniel Nelson of the "big questions", as George Daniels (1975) and Stephen Meyer (1981) have (1970) once put it. They can be broken down entered the factory floor by another door to into smaller, more manageable questions, but study the effects of mass production on the ultimately they are the questions for which workers it organized. historians of technology bear special Looking at technology in other responsibility within the historical community. contexts, Walter McDougall (1985) has They are all of them questions which can shed anatomized the means and motivation of light on the development of computing while gover nment support of research and it in turn elucidates them. development since World War II, revealing A few examples from recent literature structures and patterns that extend well must suffice to suggest the approaches beyond the space program. Behind his study historians of technology are taking to those stands the ongoing history of NASA and of its questions. Each suggests by implication what individual projects. From another perspective, might be done in the history of computing. A David F. Noble (1984) has examined the spate of studies on industrial research "command technology" that lay behind the laboratories has explored the sources, development of numerically controlled tools. purposes and strategies of organized At a more mundane level, Ruth Cowan (1983) innovation, invention, and patenting in the late has shown how "progress is our most 19th and early 20th centuries, bringing out the important product" often translated into More dynamics of technological improvement that Work for Mother, while her own experiments Rosenberg (1979) suggested was a major in early nineteenth-century domestic source of growth in productivity. In Networks technology have brought out the intimate of Power Thomas P. Hughes (1983) has relationship between household work and provided a model for pursuing another family relations. suggestion by Rosenberg, namely the need to In the late 1970s Anthony F.C. treat technologies as interactive constituents Wallace (1978) and Eugene Ferguson (1979b) of systems. Developments in one subsystem recalled our attention to the non-verbal modes may be responses to demands in others and of thought that seem more characteristic of the hence have their real pay-offs there. Or a inventor and engineer than does the breakthrough in one component of the system language-based thinking o f the scientist.7 may unexpectedly create new opportunities in Brooke Hindle's (1981) study of Morse's the others, or even force a reorganization of telegraph and Reese Jenkins's (1987) recent the system itself. work on the iconic patterns of Edison's In detailed examinations of one of the thought provide examples of the insights "really big questions" of the history of historians can derive from artifacts read as the American technology, Merritt Roe Smith concrete expressions of visual and t actile (1977) and David A. Hounshell (1984) have cognition, recognizing that, as Henry Ford traced the origins of the "American System" once put it, and its evolution into mass production and the assembly line. Both have entered the workshops and factories to reveal the quite uneven reception and progress of that system, 7 See in particular Wallace's "Thinking About never so monolithic or pervasive as it seemed Machinery" (Wallace 1978, pp.237ff.). Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 5 There is an immense amount analytical engine and George Boole's algebra to be learned simply by of thought as if they were conceptually related tinkering with things. It is not by something other than 20th-century possible to learn from books hindsight. Whatever John von Neumann's how everything is made --and precise role in designing the "von Neumann a real mechanic ought to know architecture" that defines the computer for the how nearly everything is made. period with which historians are properly Machines are to a mechanic concerned, it is really only in von Neumann's what books are to a writer. He collaboration with the ENIAC team that two gets ideas from them, and if he quite separate historical strands came together: has any brains he will apply the effort to achie ve high-speed, those ideas (Ford 1922, p.24).8 high-precision, automatic calculation and the effort to design a logic machine capable of The renewed emphasis on the visual has significant reasoning.9 reinforced the natural ties between the The dual nature of the computer is historian of technology and the museum, at the reflected in its dual origins: hardware in the same time t hat it has forged links between sequence of devices that stretches from the history of technology and the study of material Pascaline to the ENIAC, software in the series culture. of investigations that reaches from Leibniz's combinatorics to Turing's abstract machines. The Tripartite Nature of Computing Until the two strands come together in the computer, they belong to different histories, Before trying to translate some of the above the electronic calculator to the history of questions and models into forms specific to t he technology, the logic machine to the history of history of computing, it may help to reflect a mathematics,10 and they can be unfolded bit on the complexity of the object of our separately without significant loss of fullness study. The computer is not one thing, but or texture. Though they come together in the many different things, and the same holds true computer, they do not unite. The computer of computing. There is about both terms a remains an amalgam of technological device deceptive singularity to which we fall victim and mathematical concept, which retain when, as is now common, we prematurely separate identities despite their influence on unite its multiple historical sources into a one another. single stream, treating Charles Babbage's Thus the computer in itself embodies one of the central problems of the history of technology, namely the relation of science and 8 In The Sciences of the Artificial Herbert Simon (1981; cf. Newell and Simon 1976) argues forcefully for the 9 empirical natur e of computer research th at under lies I do not make this claim in ignorance of Konrad its mathematical trappings. The thinking of computer Zuse's Z4 or Alan Turing's ACE, which realized designers and programmers is embodied in the way roughly the same goals as von Neuman n's along their machines an d programs work, and th e langua ges independent paths. Clearly the computer was "in the they use to specify how things are to work are air" by the 1940s. But it was the 1940s, not the 1840s. themselves artifacts. Th e models they use are fil led 10 with images difficult or distractingly tedious to I am including the history of mathematical logic in translate into words; cf. Bolter (1984). the history of mathema tics Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 6 technology.11 Computing as an enterprise (data structures) and the relation of computer deepens the problem. For not only are finite architecture to patterns of computation. automata or denot at iona l sema ntic s Software engineering, conceived as a independent of integrated circuits, they are deliberately provocative term in 1967 (Naur also linked in only the most tenuous and and Randell 1969), has developed more as a uncertain way to programs and programming, set of techniques than as a body of learning. that is, to software and its production. Since Except for a few university centers, such as the mid-1960s experience in this realm has Carnegie-Mellon University, University of revealed a third strand in the nature of the North Carolina, Berkeley, and Oxford, it computer. Between the mathematics that remains primarily a concern of military and makes the device theoretically possible and industrial R&D aimed at the design and the electronics that makes it practically feasible implementation of large, complex systems, and lies the programming that makes it the driving forces are cost and reliability. intellectually, economically, and socially useful. Unlike the extremes, the middle History of Computing as History of remains a craft, technical rather than Technology techno logical, mathematical only in appearance. It poses the question of the Consider, then, the history of computing in relation of science and technology in a very light of current history of technology. Several special form. lines of inquiry seem particularly promising. That tripartite structure shows up in Studies such as those cited above offer a the three distinct disciplines that are concerned pano ply of models for tracing the patterns of with the computer: electrical engineering, growth and progress in computing as a computer science, and software engineering. technology. It is worth asking, for example, Of these, the first is the most well established, whether the computing industry has moved since it predates the computer, even though its forward more by big advances of radical current focus on microelectronics reflects its innovation or by small steps of improvement. basic orientation toward the device. Computer Has it followed the process described by science began to take shape during the 1960s, Nathan Rosenberg, whereby "... technological as it brought together common concerns from improvement not only enters the structure of mathematical logic (automata, proof theory, the economy through the main entrance, as recursive function theory), mathematical when it takes the highly visible form of major linguistics, and numerical analysis (algorithms, patentable technological breakthroughs, but computational complexity), adding to them that it also employs numerous and less visible questions of the organization of information side and rear entrances where its arrival is unobtrusive, unannounced, unobserved, and uncelebrated" (Rosenberg 1979, p.26)? To 11 It should sharpen the question for th e hist ory of determine whet her that is the case will require science as well, if only by giving special force to the changes in the history of co mputing as it is reciprocal influence of scientific theory and scientific currently practiced. It will mean looking instrumentation. But up to now at least it h as not beyond "firsts" to the revisions and attracted the same attention. The computer may well modifications that made products work and change that as the shaping of scientific concepts and the pursuit of scientific inquiry come to depend on the that account for their real impact. Given the sta te of comput er techn ology. corporate, collaborative structure of modern Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 7 R&D, historians of computing must follow the the special purposes of customers. Early on, admonition once made to historians of programming had to conform to the narrow technology to stop "substituting biography for limits of speed and memory set by careful analysis of social processes". Without vacuum-t ube circuitry. As largely exogenous denigrat ing the role of heroes and pioneers, we factors in the electronics industry made it need more knowledge of computing's possible to expand those limits, and at the equivalent of "shop practices, [and of] the same time drastically lowered the cost of activities of lower-level technicians in hardware, programming could take practical factories" (Daniels 1970, p.11). The question advantage of research into programming is how to pursue t hat inquiry across the languages and compilers. Researchers' ideas of variegated range of the emerging industry. multiuser systems, interactive programming, or Viewing computing both as a system virtual memory required advances in hardware in itself and as a component of a variety of at the same time that they drew out the full larger systems may provide important insights power of a new generation of machines. Just into the the dynamics of its development and as new architectures have challenged may help to distinguish between its internal established forms of programming, so too and its external history. For example, it theoretical advances in computat ion and suggests an approach to the question of the artificial intelligence have suggested new ways relation between hardware and software, often of organizing processors (e.g. Backus 1977). couched in the antagonistic form of one At present, the evolution of computing driving the other, a form which seems to as a system and of its interfaces with other assume that the two are relatively independent systems of thought and action has yet to be of one another. By contrast, linking them in a traced. Indeed, it is not clear how many system emphasizes their mutual dependence. identifiable systems constitute computing One expects o f a syst em that the relationship itself, given the diverse contexts in which it has among its internal components and their developed. We speak of the computer industry relationships to external components will vary as if it were a monolith rather than a network over time and place but that they will do so in of interdependent industries with separate a way that maintains a certain equilibrium or interests and concerns. In addition to homeostasis, even as the system itself evolves. historically more analytical studies of Seen in that light, the relation between individual firms, both large and small, we need hardware and software is a question not so analyses of t heir interaction and much of driving forces, or of stimulus and interdependence. The same holds for response, as of constraints and degrees of government and academia, neither of which freedom. While in principle all computers have has spoken with one voice on matters of the same capacities as universal Turing computing. Of particular interest here may be machines, in practice different architectures are the system-building role o f the computer in conducive to different forms of computing. forging new links of interdependence among Certain architectures have technical thresholds universities, government, and industry after (e.g. VSLI is a prerequisite to massively World War II. parallel computing), others reflect conscious Arguing in "The Big Questions" that choices among equally feasible alternatives; creators of the machinery underpinning the some have been influenced by the needs and American System worked from a knowledge concerns of software production, others by of the entire sequence of operations in Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 8 production, 12 Daniels (1970) pointed to Peter than one company found that the computer Drucker's suggestion that "the organization of reorganized de facto the lines of effective work be used as a unifying concept in the managerial power. history of technology." The recent volume by The computer seems an obvious place Charles Bashe et al. on IBM's Early to look for insight into the question of whether Computers illustrates the potential fruitfulness new technologies respond to need or create it. of that suggestion for the history of Clearly, the first computers responded to t he computing. In tracing IBM's adaptation to the felt need for high-speed, automat ic calculation, computer, they bring out the corporate and that remained the justification for their tensions and adjustments introduced into IBM early development during the late '40s. by the need to keep abreast of fast-breaking Indeed, the numerical analysts evidently developments in science and technology and in considered the computer to be their baby and turn to share its research with others.13 The resented its adoption by "computerologists" in computer reshaped R&D at IBM, defining new the late '50s and early '60s (Wilkinson 1971). relations between marketing and research, But it seems equally clear that the computer introducing a new breed of scientific personnel beca me the core of an emergent with new ways of doing things, and creating data-processing industry more by creating new roles, in particular that of the demand than by responding to it. Much as programmer. Whether the same holds true of, Henry Ford taught the nation how to use an say, Bell Laboratories or G.E. Research automobile, IBM and its competitors taught Laboratories, remains to be studied, as does the nation's businesses (and its government) the structure of the R&D institutions how to use the computer. How much of the established by the many new firms that technical development of the computer constituted the growing computer industry of originated in the marketing division remains an the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Tracy Kidder's (1981) untold story central to an understanding of frankly journalistic account of development at modern technology.15 Kidder's Soul of a New Data General has given us a tantalizing Machine again offers a glimpse of what that glimpse of the patterns we may find. Equally story may reveal. important will be studies of the emergence of One major factor in the creation o f the data-processing shop, whether as an demand seems to have been the alliance independent computer service or as a new element in established institutions. 14 More subsequent experience and data show that programmers have made the transition with no 12 Elting E. Morison (1974) h as pursued this point significant loss of control over their work; cf. Boehm along slight ly different but equally revealing lines. (1981). 13 15 Lundstrom (1987) has recently chronicled the failure See, for example, Burke (1970): "Thus technological of some companies to make the r equisite adjustments. inn ovation is not the product of society as a whole but emanat es rather from certain segments within or 14 The obvious citations here are Kraft (1977) and outside of it; the men or institutions responsible for the Greenbaum (1979), but both works are concerned more innovation, to be successful, must 'sell' it to the general with politics than with computing, and the focus of public; and innovation does have the effect of creating their political concerns, the "deskilling" of broad social change.(p.23)" Ferguson (1979a) has programmers through the impos ition of methods of made a similar observation about sellin g new structur ed programming, has proved ephemeral, as techn ology. Mahoney History of Computing in t he History of Technology page 9 between the computer and the nascent field of revolutionizing the procedures operations research/management science. As of our factories and offices the pages of the Harvard Business Review for with automation, but what 1953 show, the comput er and operat ions about out decision making? In research hit the business stage together, each other words, isn't there a a new and untried tool of management, both danger that our thought clothed in the mantle of science. Against the processes will be left in the fanciful backdrop of Croesus' defeat by horse-and-buggy stage while camel-riding Persians, an IBM advertisement our operations are being run proclaimed that "Yesterday ... 'The Fates' in the age of nucleonics, Decided. Today ... Facts Are What Count". electronics, and jet propulsion? Appealing to fact-based strides in "military ... Are the engineering and science, pure science, commerce, and scientific symbols of our age industry", the advertisement pointed beyond significant indicators of a need data processing to "'mathematical models' of for change? (Hurni 1955, p.49) specific processes, products, or situations, [by which] man today can predetermine probable Even at this early stage, the computer had results, minimize risks and costs." In less vivid acquired symbolic force in the business terms, Cyril C. Herrmann of MIT and John F. community and in society at large. We need to Magee of Arthur D. Little introduced readers know the sources of that force and how it of HBR to "'Operations Research' for worked to weave the computer into the Management" (1953), and John Diebold economic and social fabric.16 (1953) proclaimed "Automation - The New The government has played a Technology". As Herbert Simon (1960, p.14) determining role in at least four areas of later pointed out, operations research was computing: microelectronics; interactive, both old and new, with roots going back to real-time systems; artificial intelligence; and Charles Babbage and Frederick W. Taylor. Its software engineering. None of these stories novelty lay precisely in its claim to provide has been told by an historian, although each 'mathematical models' of business operations promises deep insight into the issues raised as a basis for rational decision-making. above. Modern weapons systems and the Depending for t heir se nsit ivity on space program placed a premium on computationally intensive algorithms and large miniaturization of circuits. Given the costs of volumes of data, those models required the research, development, and tooling for power of the computer. production, it is hard t o imagine that the It seems crucial for the development of the computer industry that t he business community accepted the joint claims of OR 16 Along these lines, historians of computing would do and the computer long before either could well to remember that a line of writings on the nat ure, validate them by, say, cost-benefit analysis. impact, and even histor y of computing stretch ing from The decision to adopt the new methods of Edmund C. Berkeley's (1949) Giant Brains through "rational decision-making" seems itself to have John Diebold's several volumes to Edward Feigenbaum's and Pamela McCorduck's (1983) The been less than fully rational: Fifth Generation stems from people with a product to sell, whether management consulting or expert As business managers we are systems. Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 10 integrated circuit and the microprocessor software is an artifact of computing in the would have emerged --at least as quickly as business and government sectors during the they did-- without government support. As '50s. Only when the computer left the research Frank Rose (1984) put it in Into the Heart of laboratory and the hands of the scientists and the Mind, "The computerization of society ... engineers did the writing of programs become has essentially been a side effect of the a question of production. It is in that light that computerization of war.(p.36)" More is we may most fruitfully view the development involved than smaller computers. Architecture of programming languages, programming and software change in response to speed of systems, operating systems, database and file processor and size of memory. As a result, the management systems, and communications and rapid pace of miniaturization tended to place networks, all of them aimed at facilitating the already inadequate methods of software work of programmers, maintaining managerial production under the pressure of rising control over them, and assuring the reliability expectations. By the early 1970s the of their programs. The Babel of programming Department of Defense, as the nation's single languages in the '60s tends to distract attention largest procurer of software, had declared a from the fact that three of the most commonly major stake in the development of software used languages today are also among the engineering as a body of methods and tools for oldest: FORTRAN for scientific computing, reducing the costs and increasing the reliability COBOL for data processing, and LISP for of large programs. artificial intelligence. ALGOL might have As Howard Rheingold (1985) has remained a laboratory language had it and its described in Tools for Thought the offspring not become the vehicles of structured government was quick to seize on the interest programming, a movement addressed directly of computer scientists at MIT in developing to the problems of programming as a form of the computer as an enhancement and extension production. 17 of human intellectual capabilities. In general, Central to the history of software is that interest coincided with the needs of the sense of "crisis" that emerged in the late national defense in the form of interactive '60s as one large project after another ran computing, visual displays of both text and behind schedule, over budget, and below graphics, mult i-user systems, and specifications. Though pervasive throughout inter-computer networks. The Advanced the industry, it posed enough of a strategic Research Projects Agency (later DARPA), threat for the NATO Science Committee to soon became a source of almost unlimited convene an international conference in 1968 funding for research in these areas, a source that bypassed the usual procedures of scientific funding, in particular peer review. Much of the 17 An effort at internation al cooper ation in establishing early research in artificial intelligence derived a standard progr ammin g langu age, ALGOL from its its funding from the same source, and its inception in 1956 to its final (and, some argued, development as a field of computer science over-refined) form in 1968 provides a multileveled surely reflects that independence from the view of computing in the '60s. While contributing agenda of the discipline as a whole. richly to the conceptual development of programming languages, it also has a political history which car ries Although we commonly speak of down to the present in differing directions of research, hardware and soft ware in tandem, it is worth both in computer science and, perh aps most clearly, in noting that in a strict sense the notion of software engineering. Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 11 to address it. To emphasize the need fo r a extent it has created its own. concerted effort along new lines, the The question of sources illustrates committee coined the term "software particularly well how recent work in the engineering", reflecting the view that the history of technology may provide important problem required the combination of science guidance to the history of computing, at the and management thought characteristic of same time that the latter adds new perspectives engineering. Efforts to define that combination to that work. As noted above, historians of and to develop the corresponding methods technology have focused new attention on the constitute much of the history of computing non-verbal expressions of engineering practice. during the 1970s, at least in the realm of large Of the three main strands of computing, only systems, and it is the essential background to theoretical computer science is essentially the story of Ada in the 1980s. It also reveals verbal in nature. Its sources come in the form apparently fundamental differences between most familiar to historians of science, namely the formal, mathematical orientation of books, articles, and other less formal pieces of European comput er scientists and t he writing, which by and large encompass the practical, industrial focus of their American thinking behind them. We know pretty well counterparts. Historians of science and how to read them, even for what they do not technology have seen those differences in the say explicitly. Similarly, at the level of past and have sought to explain them. Can institutional and social history, we seem to be historians of computing use those explanations on familiar ground, suffering largely from an and in turn help to articulate them? embarrassment of wealth unwinnowed by time. The effort to give meaning to But the computers themselves and the "software engineering" as a discipline and to programs that were written for them constitute define a place for it in the training of computer a quite different range of sources and thus professionals should call the historian's pose the challenge of det ermining how to read attention to the constellation of questions them. As artifacts, computers present the contained under the heading of "discipline problem of all electrical and electronic devices. formation and professionalization". In 1950 They are machines without moving parts. Even computing consisted of a handful of specially when they are running, they display no internal designed machines and a handful of specially action to explain their outward behavior. Yet, trained programmers. By 1955 some 1000 Tracy Kidder's (1981) portrait of Tom West general-purpose computers required the sneaking a look at the boards of the new Vax services of some 10,000 programmers. By to see how DEC had gone about its work 1960, the number of devices had increased reminds us that the actual machines may hold fivefold, the number of programmers sixfold. tales untold by manuals, technical reports, and And so t he growth continued. With it came engineering drawings. Those sources too associations, societies, journals, magazines, demand our attention. When imaginatively and claims t o professional and academic read, they promise to throw light not only on standing. The development of these the designers but also on those for whom they institut ions is an essential part of the the social were designing. Through the hardware and its history of computing as a technological attendant sources one can follow t he changing enterprise. Again, one may ask to what extent physiognomy of computers as they made their that development has followed historical way from the laboratories and large patterns of institutionalization and to what installations to the office and the home. Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 12 Today's prototypical computer iconically links who invented and improved the computer, television to typewriter. How that form those who determined how to program it, emerged from a roomful of tubes and switches those who defined its scientific foundations, is a matter of both technical and cultural those who established it as an industry in itself history. and introduced it into business and industry all Though hard to interpret, the came to computing from some other hardware is at least tangible. Software by background. With no inherent precedents for contrast is elusively intangible. In essence, it is their work, they had to find their own the behavior of the machines when running. It precedents. Much of the history of computing, is what converts their architecture to action, certainly for the first generation, but probably and it is constructed with action in mind; the also for the second and third, derives from the programmer aims to make something happen. precedents these people drew from their past What, then, captures software for the historical experience. In that sense, the history of record? How do we document and preserve an technology shaped the history of computing, historically significant compiler, operating and the history of computing must turn to the sysem, or database? Computer scientists have history of technology for initial bearings. pointed to the limitations of the static program A specific example may help to text as a basis for determining the program's illustrate the point. Daniels (1970) stated as dynamic behavior, and a provocative article one of the really big questions the (DeMillo et al. 1979) has questioned how development of the 'American System' and its much the written record of programming can culmination in mass production. It is perhaps tell us about the behavior of programmers. the central fact of technology in 19th-century Yet, Gerald M. Weinberg (1971, Chapter 1) America, and every historian of the subject has given an example of how programs may must grapple with it. So too, though Daniels be read to reveal the machines and people did not make the point, must historians of behind them. In a sense, historians of 20th-century technology. For mass production computing encounter from the opposite has become an historical touchstone for direction the problem faced by the software modern engineers, in the area of software as industry: what constitutes an adequate and well as elsewhere. reliable surrogate for an actually running For instance, in one of the major program? How, in particular, does the invited papers at the NATO Software historian recapture, or the producer anticipate, Engineering Conference of 1968, M.D. the component that is always missing from the McIlroy of Bell Telephone Laboratories static record of software, namely the user for looked forward to the end of a "preindustrial whom it is written and whose behavior is an era" in programming. His metaphors and essential part of it? similes harked back to the machine-tool Placing the history of computing in the industry and its methods of production. context of the history of technology promises a peculiarly recursive benefit. Although We undoubtedly produce computation by machines has a long history, software by bac kward computing in the sense I have been using here techniques. We undoubtedly did not exist before the late 1940s. There were get the short end of the stick in no computers, no programmers, no computer confrontations with hardware scientists, no computer managers. Hence those people because they are the Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 13 industrialists and we are the history of the activity. McIlroy was not crofters. Software production describing the state or even the direction of today appears in the scale of software in 1968. Rather, he was proposing industrialization somewhere an historical precedent on which to base its below the more backward future development. What is of interest to the construction industries. I think historian of computing is why McIlroy chose its proper place is considerably the model of mass production as that higher, and would like to precedent. Precisely what model of mass investigate the prospects for production did he have in mind, why did he mass-production techniques in think it appropriate or applicable to software, software.(McIlroy, 1969) why did he think his audience would respond well to the proposal, and so on? The history What McIlroy had in mind was not replication of technology provides a critical context for in large numbers, which is trivial for the evaluating the answers, indeed for shaping the computer, but rather programmed modules questions. For historians, too, the evolving that might serve as standardized, techniques of mass production in the 19th interchangeable parts to be drawn from the century constitute a model, or prototype, of library shelf and inserted in larger production technological development. Whether it is one programs. A quotation from McIlroy's paper model or a set of closely related models is a served as leitmotiv to the first part of Peter matter of current scholarly debate, but some Wegner's series on "CapitalIntensive Software features seem clear. As a system it rested on Technology" in the July 1984 number of IEEE foundat ions established in the early and Software, which was richly illustrated by mid-19th century, among them in particular photographs of capital industry in the 1930s the development of the machine-tool industry, and included insets on the history of which, as Nathan Rosenberg (1963) has technology.18 By then McIlroy's equivalent to shown, itself followed a characteristic and interchangeable parts had become "reusable revealing pattern of innovation and diffusion of software" and software engineers had new techniques. Even with the requisite developed more sophisticated tools for precision machinery, methods of mass producing it. Whether they were (or now are) production did not transfer directly or easily any closer to the goal is less important to the from one industry to another, and its historian than the continuing strength of the introduction often took place in stages peculiar model. It reveals historical self-consciousness. to production process involved (Hounshell We should appreciate t hat 1984). Software production may prove t o be self-consciousness at the same time that we the latest variation of the model, or critical view it critically, resisting the temptation to history of technology may show how it has not accept the comparisons as valid. An activity's fit. choice of historical models is itself part of the Conclusion: The Real Computer Revolution 18 One has to wonder about an article on software We can take this example a step farther. From engineering that envisions progress on an industrial model and uses photographs taken from the Great various perspectives, people have been drawn Depression. to compare the computer to the automobile. Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 14 Apple, Atari, and others have boasted of compare technological societies? That is one creating the Model T of microcomputers, of the "big questions" for historians of clearly intending to convey the image of a car technology, and it is only in the context of the in every garage, an automobile that everyone history of technology that it will be answered could drive, a machine that reshaped American for the computer. life. The software engineers who invoke the From the very beginning, the image of mass production have it inseparably computer has borne the label "revolutionary". linked in their minds to the automobile and its Even as the first commercial machines were interchangeable variations on a standard being delivered, commentators were extolling theme. or fretting over the radical changes the The two analogies serve different aims widespread use of computers would entail, and within the computer industry, the first looking few doubted their use would be widespread. to the microcomputer as an object of mass The computer directed people's eyes toward consumption, the second to software systems the future, and a few thousand bytes of as objects of mass production. But they share memory seemed space enough for the solution the vision of a society radically altered by a of almost any problem. On that both new technology. Beneath the comparison lies enthusiasts and critics could agree. Computing the conviction that the computer is bringing meant unprecedented power for science, about a revolution as profound as that industry, and business, and with the power triggered by the automobile. The comparison came difficulties and dangers that seemed between the machines is fascinating in itself. equally unprecedented. By its nature as well as Just how does one weigh the PC against the by its youth, the computer appeared to have PT (personal transporter)?19 For that matter, no history. which PC is the Model T: the Apple ][, the Yet, "revolution" is an essentially IBM, the Atari ST, the Macintosh? Yet the historical concept (Cohen 1986). Even when question is deeper than that. What would it turning things on their head, one can only mean for a microcomputer to play the role of define what is new by what is old, and the Model T in determining new social, innovation, however imaginative, can only economic, and political patt erns? The proceed from what exists. The computer had historical term in that comparison is not the a history out of which it emerged as a new Model T, but Middletown (Lynd and Lynd device, and computing took shape from other, 1929), where in less than forty years continuing activities, each with its own "high-speed steel and Ford cars" had historical momentum. As the world of the fundamentally changed the nature of work and computer acquired its own form, it remained the lives of the workers. Where is the embedded in the worlds of science, Middletown of today, similarly transformed by technology, industry, and business which the presence of the microcomputer? Where structured computing even as they changed in would one look? How would one identify the response to it. In doing so they linked the changes? What patterns of social and history of computing to their own histories, i nt e ll ec t ua l b e h a v io r m a r k such which in turn reflected the presence of a transformation? In short, how does one fundamentally new resource. What is truly revolutionary about the computer will become clear only when 19 The latter designation stems from Frand (1983). computing acquires a proper history, one that Mahon ey History of Comput ing in the History of Techn ology page 15 ties it to other technologies and thus uncovers Boehm, Barry. 1981. Sof tware Engineering the precedents that make its innovations Economics. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall. significant. Pursued within the larger enterprise Burke, John G. 1970. "Comment: The complex nature of the history of technology, the history of of explanation in the historiography of technology." computing will acquire the context of place Technology and C ulture, 11, pp. 22-26. and time that gives history meaning. Buxton, J.N. and Brian Randell (eds.). 1970 Software Engineering Techniques: Report on a conference Acknowledgements sponsored by the NATO Science Committee, Rome, Italy, 27th to 31st October 1969. 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