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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.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Modelling, Calculation and Analogy: The Themes of Analogue Computing

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: Analogue Computers in the History of Computing

Abstract
Today, modern computers are based on digital technology. Information is represented as bits and bytes, sequences of binary 1s and 0s. Fundamental to the technology is the idea of on and off, of true and false. So fundamental is this concept of discrete (or digital) state, that it is difficult to imagine how computers could be non-digital, or even if non-digital computers would be computers. This book addresses the history of a different kind of computer technology: one commonly known as ‘analogue computing’. Once a common alternative to the now-dominant digital computer, analogue technology was used for a whole variety of calculating and modelling applications.
Charles Care

Chapter 2. A Multi-Stranded Chronology of Analogue Computing

Abstract
In the historiography of analogue computing, much of the existing scholarship conflates what are really two separate themes: calculation and modelling. On further investigation, it becomes clear that this dichotomy of ‘equation-solving’ versus ‘modelling’ also exists in the historical sources. This chapter uses a multi-stranded chronology to narrate the history of analogue computing and remain faithful to these themes. It introduces the different types of technology, and also provides an outline of the histories of various key machines and inventions. It is argued that it was not until the concept of an ‘analogue computer’ emerged that the two strands of the technology’s history (modelling and equation-solving) were unified.
Charles Care

Chapter 3. Modelling Technology and the History of Analogue Computing

Abstract
It is common for histories of computing to describe the computer as a calculating machine, or indeed an information machine. Building on the multiple themes introduced in Chap. 2, this chapter develops the idea of the computer as a ‘modelling machine’. It establishes philosophical and historical motivations for investigating the computer as a modelling technology. It is shown that this perspective of computing helps explain why users of the analogue technology understood computing to be a dynamic, exploratory activity. For the users of analogue computing, the large batch-processing machines typically used for data processing were not satisfactory tools. Understanding these ‘contexts of use’ helps interpret analogue–digital debates and controversies.
Charles Care

Chapter 4. Origins of Analogue: Conceptual Association and Entanglement

Abstract
Analogue computing derives its name from ‘analogy’ and before the phrase ‘analogue computing’ was first coined, the pre-existing technologies were called ‘electrical analogies’ or ‘electrical analogues’. This chapter discusses the emergence of the discipline of electrical analogy during the early twentieth century. Evolving from early electrical modelling, this culture of analogy formed the foundations for analogue computing. This chapter is about the history of a concept: the concept of ‘electrical analogy’. We will see how, as the use of successive types of analogy became established practice, a discipline of analogue computing began to form. As a result of both analogue and digital technologies being called ‘computers’, analogue became associated with digital. Initially, this enrollment was good for analogue technology. However, later in the history, this association turned sour. Analogue became the ‘poor relation’ of computing and was redefined to become a non-computational technology.
Charles Care

Analogue Computing in Use: A Selection of Contexts

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Analogue Computers in British Higher Education

Abstract
This chapter investigates the activities of British Universities and their use of analogue computing. Through this case study we see how analogue computing was used for a whole variety of applications and how each type of application has its own history. In terms of the relationship between analogue and digital, this chapter also investigates how analogue computers were funded. We will see that users of analogue computers had to compete with those of digital for grants from the same funding sources. This chapter undertakes a quantitative analysis of analogue use by looking at the numbers of research theses completed at British Universities between 1950 and 1980. Supporting the argument for multiple perspectives of use, this chapter describes how various applications of analogue (calculation, modelling, and control) follow different historical trajectories. It also explores the consequences of classification in the funding of analogue computing. Through looking at the funding of these machines, we see how the wider policy making climate initiated the decline of analogue.
Charles Care

Chapter 6. Analogue Computers and Oil Reservoir Modelling

Abstract
It is common for histories of computing to discuss the transition from one technical paradigm to another. However, historians would also agree that such transitions are rarely clear-cut and occur over a period of time. By 1960 digital computers had become increasingly dominant, so this chapter considers why in 1961 the research division of BP, a world class petroleum company, chose to install an analogue computer. The chapter describes the history of using electrical models—particularly electrolytic tanks and resistance networks—for modelling subterranean reservoir systems. Again, we see how modelling culture was crucial to the application of analogue computing techniques. Furthermore, the study demonstrates how BP researchers were using both analogue and digital computers. It is concluded that analogue–digital superiority was not an immediate concern of these users. Instead of alternatives, these two classes of computer were complements.
Charles Care

Chapter 7. Analogue–Digital Decisions in British Aeronautical Research

Abstract
Considering the claim that analogue was intuitive to use and well-regarded amongst engineers, this chapter examines their use in aeronautical design. Within this engineering community, analogue computing was understood to be a technology to model and experiment with, rather than a calculation aid. It was the benefits of analogue computing as a modelling technology that were cited by those who preferred it to digital. In this chapter, the persistence of analogue computing is explored in terms of its reliability and trustworthiness. The first half of this chapter reviews the use of analogues in this field, with the second investigating an analogue–digital debate which took place within the computation panel of the UK’s Aeronautical Research Council (ARC), a government-supported advisory organisation.
Charles Care

Chapter 8. The Analogue Dishpan: Physical Modelling Versus Numerical Calculation in Meteorology

Abstract
The history of meteorology is intimately related to the history of the computer, weather forecasting being one of the first applications of the (digital) American Eniac. In the history of computing literature, meteorology is always presented as an area dominated by digital. This chapter takes a look at this application area and finds that where analogue devices were used, they were generally not electrical, and seldom referred to as computers. We will see how Lewis Fry Richardson, a well-known pioneer of numerical weather modelling, also used physical modelling techniques. Following the story of the technique he proposed, we move on to discuss the work of Dave Fultz, a meteorology researcher who argued for the benefits of complementing mathematical study with experimental techniques. Whether or not these experimental techniques should be considered computers, there is a close relationship between them and analogue computing, and they certainly form part of the history of pre-computational modelling. This chapter stresses the importance of situating analogue computing within a wider history of modelling technology.
Charles Care

Chapter 9. Conclusion

Abstract
This study opened with two main observations of analogue computing. The first related to technological classification and the complexity of defining ‘analogue computing’. The second noted that the major use of analogue computers was for modelling, indicating that the technology should be situated within a wider history of modelling technology. The first was an observation about analogue identity, the second was a more practical observation regarding analogue use. The conclusions of this book are summed up in three broad themes: first, that multiple perspectives of use call for multiple historical trajectories; second, that both theoretical classification and social associations played an important role in the construction and deconstruction of the analogue community; and third, that where analogue–digital debates existed, concerns of analogue users related to their specific requirements rather than to the technology’s merits. These debates were based on concrete use, not abstract theory.
Charles Care

Backmatter

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