In the 1930s, “computer” was a job description: someone, usually a woman of mathematical bent, with an adding machine and a big sheet of columnar paper who performed a rigorous routine of hand calculations, using paper and pencil, slide rules and tables of logarithms. Stone knives and bearskins weren’t involved, but to modern eyes they might as well have been.The story just gets more interesting from there.
Large research organizations and the Department of War had a few special purpose mechanical computers intended to integrate differential equations. Vannevar Bush (who deserves his own article someday) brought a young grad student to MIT to work on the differential analyzer, a relatively advanced version of these...
This young man, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, was named Claude Shannon, Jr. Shannon, while working on the differential analyzer, had the insight that these same computations could be done using combinations of a few simple circuits that performed basic logical operations on true and false values. He described how this could be done, and invented the whole concept of digital circuits, which derive from from Shannon’s thesis on what he called switching theory.
His Master’s thesis.At about the same time, Alan Turing wrote his series of famous papers on computability; those papers included an idea of how a computer with memory might work, but without Shannon’s switching theory, no one knew how to actually build one.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
The Greatest Genius No One Has Heard Of
A very interesting piece on Claude Shannon, Jr.