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Harry Huskey, Pioneering Computer Scientist, Is Dead at 101

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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/us/harry-huskey-dead-computer-pioneer.html

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Harry Huskey, circa 1950, with an early computer prototype. Credit via the Computer History Museum       

Dr. Huskey, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, began his digital career in the mid-1940s with the Eniac, a behemoth that was considered the country’s first general-purpose programmable electronic computer. A top-secret federal government project at the University of Pennsylvania, it measured 100 feet long, weighed 30 tons and contained 18,000 vacuum tubes.

He later worked with the pioneering British mathematician Alan M. Turing on a prototype of another early computer, the Automatic Computing Engine; oversaw development of yet another, the SWAC (Standards Western Automatic Computer); and in 1954 designed the G-15, a 950-pound predecessor to today’s laptops.

The G-15, a problem-solving computer that could be operated by one person, was sold to the Bendix Aviation Corporation, which sold it to scientific researchers and corporate customers for the retail price of $50,000.

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Dr. Huskey in his barn in 1988 with the G-15 — which he designed in 1954 and was billed as the first personal computer — before it was shipped to the Smithsonian Institution. Credit Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel        

In his interview for the Computer History Museum, Dr. Huskey said that the computer revolution he had helped create posed profound questions for society that it had never had to grapple with before.

“What is the effect of almost instantaneous communication on society — the fact that we can look at what’s going on in Burma today and other places? The Constitution was written when you had to go from New York to Boston by horse, and it took you three days, or something. And if you look at it purely as a dynamic system, the stimuli can arrive much faster than you can respond to it.”

“And what do you do about it?” he continued. “I don’t know.”

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Interesting, I didn't realise that he had worked with Turing on ACE, which was built at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, I think, That thing had a mercury delay line as its main storage medium.

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The way the whole computer technology evolution thing just took sooo long to get going but exploded exponentially once it did is on of the more interesting phenoms of our time, at least for me.Seems like once the silicon chip started happening, BOOM!

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To put it all in perspective, the first programme I ever wrote (in Fortran) was on a deck of punched cards. Had to punch them myself !  Back then, you could still trace the legacy to the likes of ENIAC, EDSAC, ACE etc.

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Punch cards! That was what I found so interesting in the Robert Taylor RIP from Monday, his story about the first time he had to do punch cards, it got him angry, he felt insulted, that was the word he used, insulted. I'm like, whoa, this is a guy moving things ahead, not as a matter of "progress" or "convenience" or simple "efficiency", but genuine regard for human dignity (his own, anyway). I always dig it when innovators think in those kinds of terms, like, yeah, we're better than this, let's get busy being better.

Everybody gets "insulted" these days, but somebody who goes about effecting a fundamental systemic change to remove the mechanics that generate the insult, that's pretty...high-level humanity, I think.

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