SIGCIS 2010 Workshop Works in Progress

Name:Mai Sugimoto

Institutional Affiliation:Kyoto University


Paper Type:Work in Progress

Paper Title:Making Computers Logical: Edmund Berkeley’s promotion of logical machines

Paper Abstract:Edmund Berkeley, who was one of the founders of ACM, endeavored to make knowledge of computing machinery available to the general public by writing books and magazine articles and promoting electric toy kits during the 1940s and '50s. Since Berkeley had an obsession of sorts with logic, his belief that the connection between "logic and electric circuits" or "computing machines and reasoning" should be emphasized sparked a discourse in computing machines as logical machines, and it helped form a commonly accepted view that Claude Shannon made a contribution regarding logical circuits in the design of digital computers.

Some historians have argued that the work of Turing, von Neumann, or Shannon played a role in establishing the idea that computers should be associated with logic (e.g. Michael Mahoney, "What Was the Question? The Origins of the Theory of Computation", in Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines, 2004). As for Shannon at least however, it cannot be assumed that his work on switching circuits, especially his famous paper “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits” (1939) exerted its influence on the development of computing machines in the 1940s. For his 1939 paper focused on the analysis and synthesis of complicated switching circuits used exclusively for telephony and control and few researchers and engineers working with computing machinery referred to this paper at the time.

The emergence of the view that Shannon's achievement in 1939 was associated with the design of computing machinery was encouraged by Berkeley's science communication activity driven by his obsession with logic. In terms of this, Berkeley did three notable things. First, he presented Shannon's 1939 paper and machines such as Kalin-Burkhart logical truth calculator and his experimental logical machine, Simon in his well known and influential book Giant Brains. Second, Berkeley ran his own company Berkeley Enterprises, which sold electric logical toy kits for children in order to nurture their talent for logic, and he worked in collaboration with Shannon for over a year. In addition to this, Berkeley made copies of Shannon's 1939 paper several times in the 1950s in order to inform his customers of Shannon’s achievement. Curiously enough, Berkeley did not mention Alan Turing or the Turing machine, but his focus was obviously on logic and electric circuits.

It seems that through these various activities, Berkeley played a role in building the commonly accepted historical perspective on computers and logic.

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