[COFF] [ off topic ] History of US computing leading to 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering

steve jenkin sjenkin at canb.auug.org.au
Sat Apr 27 15:19:46 AEST 2024

Sorry for the dual list post, I don’t who monitors COFF, the proper place for this.

There may a good timeline of the early decades of Computer Science and it’s evolution at Universities in some countries, but I’m missing it.

Doug McIlroy lived through all this, I hope he can fill in important gaps in my little timeline.

It seems from the 1967 letter, defining the field was part of the zeitgeist leading up to the NATO conference.

	1949	ACM founded
	1958	First ‘freshman’ computer course in USA, Perlis @ CMU

	1960	IBM 1400 - affordable & ‘reliable’ transistorised computers arrived
	1965	MIT / Bell / General Electric begin Multics project. 
			CMU establishes Computer Sciences Dept.
	1967	“What is Computer Science” letter by Newell, Perlis, Simon 
	1968	“Software Crisis” and 1st NATO Conference
	1969	Bell Labs withdraws from Multics
	1970	GE's sells computer business, including Multics, to Honeywell
	1970	PDP-11/20 released
	1974	Unix issue of CACM


The arrival of transistorised computers - cheaper, more reliable, smaller & faster - was a trigger for the accelerated uptake of computers.

The IBM 1400-series was offered for sale in 1960, becoming the first (large?) computer to sell 10,000 units - a marker of both effective marketing & sales and attractive pricing.

The 360-series, IBM’s “bet the company” machine, was in full development when the 1400 was released.


Attached is a text file, a reformatted version of a 1967 letter to ’Science’ by Allen Newell, Alan J. Perlis, and Herbert A. Simon:

	"What is computer science?”


A 1978 masters thesis on Early Australian Computers (back to 1950’s, mainly 1960’s) cites a 17 June 1960 CSIRO report estimating
1,000 computers in the US and 100 in the UK. With no estimate mentioned for Western Europe.

The thesis has a long discussion of what to count as a (digital) ‘computer’ -
	sources used different definitions, resulting in very different numbers, 
	making it difficult to reconcile early estimates, especially across continents & countries. 

Reverse estimating to 1960 from the “10,000” NATO estimate of 1968, with a 1- or 2-year doubling time, 
gives a range of 200-1,000, including the “100” in the UK.

Licklider and later directors of ARPA’s IPTO threw millions into Computing research in the 1960’s, funding research and University groups directly.
[ UCB had many projects/groups funded, including the CSRG creating BSD & TCP/IP stack & tools ]

Obviously there was more to the “Both sides of the Atlantic” argument of E.W. Dijkstra and Alan Kay - funding and numbers of installations was very different.

The USA had a substantially larger installed base of computers, even per person,
and with more university graduates trained in programming, a higher take-up in private sector, not just the public sector and defence, was possible.



	In September 1949, a constitution was instituted by membership approval.



	In 1958, Perlis began teaching the first freshman-level computer programming course in the United States at Carnegie Tech. 

	In 1965, Carnegie Tech established its Computer Science Department with a $5 million grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation. Perlis was the first department head.


From the 1968 NATO report [pg 9 of pdf ]

	In Europe alone there are about 10,000 installed computers — this number is increasing at a rate of anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent per year. 
	The quality of software provided for these computers will soon affect more than a quarter of a million analysts and programmers.

	In 1958 a European general purpose computer manufacturer often had less than 50 software programmers, 
	now they probably number 1,000-2,000 people; what will be needed in 1978?

	_Yet this growth rate was viewed with more alarm than pride._ (comment)


Steve Jenkin, IT Systems and Design 
0412 786 915 (+61 412 786 915)
PO Box 38, Kippax ACT 2615, AUSTRALIA

mailto:sjenkin at canb.auug.org.au http://members.tip.net.au/~sjenkin

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