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The Best Way to Design an Automatic Calculating Machine1

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129502D
Original Publication Date: 1986-Apr-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 4 page(s) / 24K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

M. V. WILKES: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

I would like to begin by adding my congratulations to the many others which have been received by Professor Williams, Manchester University and Ferranti Ltd., on the construction of the machine which has just been inaugurated. In the face of this beautifully engineered machine, the title I have chosen for my opening remarks in this discussion may sound a little impertinent. But, as Dr. Kilburn remarked yesterday, the designer of an electronic calculating machine must continually take decisions, and he does not know when he takes them whether they are right or wrong. I might put it by saying that in a mathematical sense the solution to the problem of designing an electronic calculating machine is unstable. Two similar groups of engineers with similar backgrounds and assisted by similar groups of mathematicians will, if working independently, produce quite different machines. Moreover, the machines finally built will depend on the scale on which the projects are conducted, the experience and background of the teams, and the state of technical developments at the time. The last item is important since new developments in electron tubes, or in non- linear devices of the germanium type, might well affect even so fundamental a decision as the choice between the serial or parallel modes of operation for the machine. It is desirable, therefore, to keep under review the considerations which underlie the design of calculating machines and to try to examine them in the light of general principles as well as of current technical developments. I am aware that in doing this one is in danger of saying things which are sufficiently obvious without being said, but I am in the fortunate position of having been asked to open a discussion rather than to give a paper. I shall not, therefore, attempt to present a logical thesis but shall allow myself to raise issues rather than settle them. I think that most people will agree that the first consideration for a designer at the present time is how he is to achieve the maximum degree of reliability in his machine. Amongst other things the reliability of the machine will depend on the following: (a) The amount of equipment it contains. (b) Its complexity. (c) The degree of repetition of units. By the complexity of a machine I mean the extent to which cross- connections between the various units obscure their logical inter- relation. A machine is easier to repair if it consists of a number of units connected together in a simple way without cross-connections between them; it is also easier to construct since different people can work on the different units without getting in each other's way.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1986 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

The Best Way to Design an Automatic Calculating Machine11

M. V. WILKES

I would like to begin by adding my congratulations to the many others which have been received by Professor Williams, Manchester University and Ferranti Ltd., on the construction of the machine which has just been inaugurated. In the face of this beautifully engineered machine, the title I have chosen for my opening remarks in this discussion may sound a little impertinent. But, as Dr. Kilburn remarked yesterday, the designer of an electronic calculating machine must continually take decisions, and he does not know when he takes them whether they are right or wrong. I might put it by saying that in a mathematical sense the solution to the problem of designing an electronic calculating machine is unstable. Two similar groups of engineers with similar backgrounds and assisted by similar groups of mathematicians will, if working independently, produce quite different machines. Moreover, the machines finally built will depend on the scale on which the projects are conducted, the experience and background of the teams, and the state of technical developments at the time. The last item is important since new developments in electron tubes, or in non- linear devices of the germanium type, might well affect even so fundamental a decision as the choice between the serial or parallel modes of operation for the machine. It is desirable, therefore, to keep under review the considerations which underlie the design of calculating machines and to try to examine them in the light of general principles as well as of current technical developments. I am aware that in doing this one is in danger of saying things which are sufficiently obvious without being said, but I am in the fortunate position of having been asked to open a discussion rather than to give a paper. I shall not, therefore, attempt to present a logical thesis but shall allow myself to raise issues rather than settle them.

I think that most people will agree that the first consideration for a designer at the present time is how he is to achieve the maximum degree of reliability in his machine. Amongst other things the reliability of the machine will depend on the following: (a) The amount of equipment it contains.
(b) Its complexity. (c) The degree of repetition of units.

By the complexity of a machine I mean the extent to which cross- connections between the various units obscure their logical inter- relation. A machine is easier to repair if it consists of a number of units connected together in a simple way without cross-connections between them; it is also easier to construct since different people can work on the different units without getting in each other's way.

As regards repetition I think everyone would prefer to have in a particular...