Of Humble Origins: The Practice Roots of Interactive and Collaborative Computing

Kjeld Schmidt

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The digital stored-program computer was developed as a technology for automating the large-scale calculation work that since the time of the French Revolution had been performed cooperatively, in an advanced form of division of labor («human computers»). This led to the construction of digital electronic computing, which was little more than large-scale calculators. The development work involved various scientists, for whom the new devices were scientific equipment of essential importance for their own work (cryptology, weapons design), as well as various engineers in a supporting role. Technologically, this turned out to be a dead-end road, of which little survived, apart from batch-computing such as payroll calculation, tax calculation, compiling, and of course certain scientific calculations.

What today, typically, is conceived of a «computing», namely, «personal computing», initially developed as a technology for facilitating large-scale cooperative work activities (initially air defense, later air traffic control and airline reservations) in order to deal with the problem that had become too complex to be performed by conventional means of the coordination of cooperative work, manual or mechanical. The technology of interactive computing subsequently branched out in all directions, ranging from interactive human-computer systems such as workstations, laptop computers, and smartphones, to «embedded» computing devices for the purpose of controlling machinery such as machining stations, car engines, and washing machines, in which the computing device «interacts» with mechanical or other environmental entities.

Important paradigms of interactive computing applications were developed in ways that have remarkable similarities: they were built by practitioners as practical techniques for their own use or for the use of their colleagues, and later generalized.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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