I was fiddling around some more with n-grams, and I came across a surprising result. So surprising, in fact, that I am deeply suspicious of it. As you can see from the graph, I searched for "radio," "television," "computer" from 1920 to 2000. The oddity is the powerful surge of "computer" in the 1950s and 60s. If n-grams are supposed to be a tool for the quantitative study of culture, surely there is something badly off here.
As I'm sure most of you know, late least year Google announced a new research tool known as the Ngram Viewer. (An n-gram is any sequence of items--in this case words--of length n; so a 2-gram would be any word pair). The tool was released in conjunction with the publication of a paper in Science that made use of it to explore the history of culture.
Polish-born engineerPaul Baran died this week in Palo Alto, at age 84. [Aside: the number of important figures in the history of computing who were born to Jewish families in Eastern Europe before World War II and later emigrated to the U.S. is quite astounding; computing must rival physics in this regard.] He is best known as one of the originators of communications based on "message blocks" (a.k.a packets), while working at RAND Corporation in the early 1960s.