Technology for Modelling: Electrical Analogies, Engineering Practice, and the Development of Analogue Computing (History of Computing)

Technology for Modelling: Electrical Analogies, Engineering Practice, and the Development of Analogue Computing (History of Computing)

Charles Care

Language: English

Pages: 203


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Historians have different views on the core identity of analogue computing. Some portray the technology solely as a precursor to digital computing, whereas others stress that analogue applications existed well after 1940. Even within contemporary sources, there is a spectrum of understanding around what constitutes analogue computing. To understand the relationship between analogue and digital computing, and what this means for users today, the history must consider how the technology is used.

Technology for Modelling investigates the technologies, the concepts, and the applications of analogue computing. The text asserts that analogue computing must be thought of as not just a computing technology, but also as a modelling technology, demonstrating how the history of analogue computing can be understood in terms of the parallel themes of calculation and modelling. The book also includes a number of detailed case studies of the technology's use and application.

Topics and features: discusses the meaning of analogue computing and its significance in history, and describes the main differences between analogue and digital computing; provides a chronology of analogue computing, based upon the two major strands of calculation and modeling; examines the wider relationship between computing and modelling, and discusses how the theme of modelling fits within the history of analogue computing; describes how the history of analogue computing evolved through a number of stages of use; presents illustrative case studies on analogue modelling in academic research, oil reservoir modelling, aeronautical design, and meteorology.

General readers and researchers in the field of history of computing – as well as history of science more generally – will find this book a fascinating insight into the historical use and evolution of technology. The volume provides a long-needed historical framework and context for these core computing technologies.

Dr. Charles Care is a senior software engineer at BT and an Associate Fellow at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Warwick, UK.

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usually portrayed as a pioneer of the mathematical method.20 As such, it can seem unclear why he would have considered developing an analogue device. As we will see below, Richardson did attempt to construct his spinning bowl while serving in the First World War. Using a basin of water on a rotating gramophone turntable, he constructed what he described as a ‘working model’ of the atmosphere.21 Although he did not develop this initial experiment further, a copy of his research notes were passed

only digital: a review of ACM’s early involvement with analog computing technology. Commun. ACM 50 (5), 42–45 (2007b). Care, C.: From analogy-making to modelling: the history of analog computing as a modelling technology. Ph.D. thesis, Department of Computer Science, University of Warwick (2008) Carter, D.V. (ed.): History of Petroleum Engineering. American Petroleum Institute, Washington (1961). Ceruzzi, P.E.: Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age. MIT Press, Cambridge (1989).

However, it is important to emphasise that the history of modern analogue computing is inextricably linked with the history of modern digital computing. In fact, the phrase ‘analogue computing’ was only coined as a result of the invention of digital computers in the 1940s. In terms of the wider history of computing, the 1940s was a period of significant innovation and saw the unveiling of Howard Aiken’s Harvard Mark I; the invention of an automatic electrical calculator by John Vincent Atanasoff;

pp. 505–506. 18Bromley (1990) p. 167, Fischer (1995) p. 123, de Morin (1913) pp. 56–59. 19Although it is unlikely that his instrument was copied from Hermann, there is evidence to show that it may have been inspired by Gonnella’s design—Gonnella had sent his designs to a Swiss instrument maker shortly before Oppikofer’s invention appeared. In 1894 Henrici wrote that ‘[h]ow much he had heard of Gonnella’s invention or of Hermann’s cannot now be decided’ (Henrici 1894, p. 506). 20Royal

hinges on the pre-war differential analysers at Manchester and Cambridge: machines that were replaced by early digital machines. However, analogue computing was widely used after 1950. As an indication of its popularity, Fig. 5.1 shows the growth of research projects using analogue computing between 1940 and 1979. We can see that there was significant activity in analogue use well into the 1970s. Figure 5.2 shows the top 10 institutions contributing to these statistics. When discussing the demise

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