Tuesday, December 19, 2006

From Calculation to Communication

The original impetus behind computing was a need for calculation, and this need for calculation shaped computing's early history and many of the strategic decisions made along the way. In consideration of its mission, I think calculational computing has been well handled, and all of the libraries devoted to calculation stand as evidence of mission accomplished.

Today it seems most computing is directed at communication rather than calculation, and it also seems we spend an inordinate amount of time solving communication problems using languages and systems whose ancestries are deeply rooted in calculational computing.

If we lacked the legacy of strictly calculational computing and had to return to the first principles of early computing with the task of solving today's communications problems, my guess is we'd embark on a pretty significant course than that taken by the pioneers of calculation. Addressing problems posed by communication would be much higher on the agenda, and I think the direction of everything down to the design of programming languages would be affected.

Getting a piece of data from Point A to Point B shouldn't be as complicated as it often is with today's typical hodgepodge of technologies. I don't think the pioneers of computing ever envisioned the degree to communication would as significant part of computing as it has become.


Anonymous Mark VandeWettering said...

Yep. In my lifetime, my use of computers has gone through three fundamentally different periods.

1. The programming period, where I spent time programming computers to solve problems (usually of a computational nature).

2. The applications period, where we used programs that other people wrote to solve problems, or perform well defined tasks like word processing.

3. The communications phase. My computer has become the replacent for phones, TV, and library. 90% of what I use my computers for are to communicate with others and learn about other, non-computer related topics.

The good news is that computers are still useful (in fact, more useful than ever before) in doing the same things we did in periods one and two.

10:42 PM  
Blogger metamerist said...


Overall, I think past languages and tools have done pretty good job of rising to the task. Consider, for example, the longevity of BLAS, LINPACK and similar calculational libraries.

9:30 AM  

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