Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 472. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: email@example.com  From: Willard McCarty
Subject: commercialisation (21)  From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Subject: Re: commercialisation of computing (42)  From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Subject: Re: commercialisation of computing (69)  From: John Naughton Subject: Re: Computing and the military-industrial complex (57) -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2019-02-18 21:24:38+00:00 From: Willard McCarty Subject: commercialisation I was thinking of hardware development and only repeating what the standard histories say about what was involved in the rapid developments and spread of computing machinery in the 1950s. But my point was really about entanglement of many sectors and many kinds of people and about the complexity of the story. Hacking somewhere makes the point that a large proportion of biological research these days is done by commercial companies. One big problem there is that research becomes proprietary and secret. What would the history of small machines been like if the head of IBM Florida (was it?) put the design of the PC into the public domain? 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) -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2019-02-18 19:19:16+00:00 From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Subject: Re: commercialisation of computing l wrote: > ... > Forth was developed by people working on commercial contracts to > develop software for various bespoke systems. So — commercial? Re-reading the paper on “The evolution of Forth” from ACM’s second conference on the history of programming languages (HOPL II), I see that my memory has failed me. It is apparently not the case that Charles Moore was always working as a commercial contractor on the projects on which he developed Forth. Sometimes he was a direct employee of various research organizations like the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) early in his career. The name Forth was first used in an earlier project written in a commercial context (for Mohasco Industries), which was canceled before completion owing to an economic downturn. But if I am reading the information before me correctly, it was not as an outside contractor but as an employee of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) that he deployed what is described in the HOPL II paper as "the first complete, stand-alone implementation of Forth" at Kitt Peak Observatory. If we are seeking (as I was) to cast doubt on the commercial / non-commercial distinction by pointing to programming languages developed within a commercial context but not developed as commercial products, then, Forth is probably a less persuasive example than C, Snobol, Jovial, or C++. It continues to seem to me that many other things are more important and interesting, when thinking about a given event or development in computing history, than whether the paychecks were made out by a not-for-profit organization or by a commercial entity. ******************************************** C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Black Mesa Technologies LLC firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.blackmesatech.com ******************************************** -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2019-02-18 19:18:00+00:00 From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Subject: Re: commercialisation of computing In Humanist 32.470, Willard McCarty writes: > 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. Like Desmond Schmidt’s casual equation of ommercial involvement in computer research and development with commercial invention of computing, this characterization seems to me somewhat too simple. If R and D “had to be” commercialized, then it would seem to follow that non-commercial R and D was not possible, and it ought to be impossible to name important milestones of computing that did not come out of commercial labs. Your mileage may differ, but somehow I think a history of computing that included PL/I, Fortran, RPG3, Rexx, and Java but omitted Lisp, Algol 60, Algol 68, Pascal, Prolog, Perl, and Python would be remarkably incomplete. I’ve limited myself to considering the history of programming languages, for concreteness, but I don’t see any reason to expect different results from considering other areas of computing. Part of the problem is that any attempt to partition effort into commercial and non-commercial effort, as if they were cleanly separable, risks Procrusteanism. C was developed at Bell Labs — so is it commercial? C was not a product — so non-commercial? And Snobol (also developed at Bell Labs)? In any case, neither Bell Labs nor the Bell System were ordinary commercial entities. Forth was developed by people working on commercial contracts to develop software for various bespoke systems. So — commercial? But it wasn’t developed as a product, only as a means to an end, and it was only after it had been deployed in various forms on several kinds of hardward that someone persuaded Charles Moore to take a snapshot of the software infrastructure he had deployed at Kitt Peak Observatory and make it into a product. So … does Forth show the truth of the proposition that computer R and D “had to be … commercialized”? Or is it a counter-example? I do not wish to argue that the essential history of computing is non-commercial. On the contrary. We would get an equally incomplete history of computing if we omitted all work done in commercial labs, or work done in product development, or the commercialization of work done non-commercially. But the role of commerce in the history of computing seems to me more complex than can be captured by summaries like “computing is a commercial invention” or “the computer had to be commercialized in order to sustain research and development in the field.” Commercial interests are sometimes drivers of research, and sometimes followers. On the issue of defense funding ... I agree with Willard that it's not a simple issue. I learned a great deal as a child by reading books in a public library originally endowed by Andrew Carnegie. That he endowed many libraries and other cultural institutions does not, of course, erase the business practices that enabled him to amass his fortune. Should the twelve-year-old me have boycotted the public library because Carnegie’s money was dirty? ******************************************** C. M. Sperberg-McQueen Black Mesa Technologies LLC email@example.com http://www.blackmesatech.com ******************************************** -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2019-02-18 17:22:32+00:00 From: John Naughton Subject: Re: Computing and the military-industrial complex Brooding on your note — especially about "the matter of our indebtedness to the military imperatives of warfare that came before commercialisation” — I chanced upon an advance copy of ‘Surveillance Valley: the secret military history of the Internet’ by Yasha Levine, the jacket of which claims that “the Internet was developed, from the outset, as a weapon”. If true that would be an interesting proposition. But as far as I know, no historian of the network sees it that way. Bob Taylor, the ARPA official who funded the ARPANET, saw it as an administrative and communication tool. ARPA was funding expensive mainframe computers at various research labs around the country. Taylor was infuriated when he arrived in the Pentagon as head of the IPTO `[Information Processing Techniques Office]`, to find that he needed different log-on protocols to access each of the machines he was funding, and he persuaded his boss, Charles Herzfeld, to fund a solution to the problem. “Taylor gave his boss a quick briefing: IPTO contractors, most of whom were at research universities, were beginning to request more and more computer resources. Every principal investigator, it seemed, wanted his own computer. Not only was there an obvious duplication of effort across the research community, but it was getting damned expensive. Computers weren’t small and they weren’t cheap. Why not try tying them all together? By building a system of electronic links between machines, researchers doing similar work in different parts of the country could share resources and results more easily. Instead of spreading half a dozen expensive mainframes across the country devoted to advanced graphics research, ARPA could concentrate resources in one or two places and build a way for everyone to get at them. One university might concentrate on one thing, another research centre could be funded to concentrate on something else, but regardless of where you were physically located, you would have access to it all. He suggested that ARPA fund a small test network, starting with, say, four nodes and building up to a dozen or so.” (Hafner & Lyon, ‘Where Wizards Stay Up Late: the origins of the Internet', Touchstone, 1996, pp. 41-2.) Herzfeld agreed, and the network was born. I find this ‘administrative’ rationale more plausible. But because ARPA was located within the Department of Defense — and was therefore a military agency — I suppose that ‘guilt by association’ was always bound to be hypothesised. (I think it comes up in one of Don DeLillo’s books, maybe ‘Underworld’). No doubt, when the ARPANET was built and functional, any authorised officer with a .MIL identifier could use it for whatever military purpose they had, but I’m sceptical that that was the the initial motivation for building the network. Best John _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: firstname.lastname@example.org List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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