Browse Prior Art Database

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 14 Number 1 -- Reviews

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129715D
Original Publication Date: 1992-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 8 page(s) / 37K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

PAUL CERUZI: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

The Reviews Department features reviews of films, audio- and videotapes, exhibits, and publications relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of any technical, economy, business, social, or institutional aspect of the history of computing will be given 8 complete review. Dissertations, articles, and other studies of interest to Annals readers will be listed in a section on Other Literature, with full bibliography citation and notes on its nature and availability. Colleagues are encouraged to participate by indicating their wish to review a work or by suggesting titles to the Reviews Editor. Reviews without a byline are by the editor.

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 10% of the total text.

Page 1 of 8

THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1992 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Reviews

PAUL CERUZI, EDITOR

The Reviews Department features reviews of films, audio- and videotapes, exhibits, and publications relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of any technical, economy, business, social, or institutional aspect of the history of computing will be given 8 complete review. Dissertations, articles, and other studies of interest to Annals readers will be listed in a section on Other Literature, with full bibliography citation and notes on its nature and availability.

Colleagues are encouraged to participate by indicating their wish to review a work or by suggesting titles to the Reviews Editor.

Reviews without a byline are by the editor.

REVIEWS

Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1990, pp. xiii 484.

Whether or not God is in the details, as a prominent modern architect once suggested, history certainly is, although only when the historian recognizes that the facts do not speak for themselves. As the great naturalist Louis Agassiz observed, "Facts, facts are stupid things, until brought in connection with some general law." Too often historians of computing have ignored that lesson at their peril, so intent on getting the facts straight that they neglect the larger issues that alone can give the facts any significance. Consequently, as Michael Mahoney recently pointed out ("The History of Computing in the History of Technology," Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1988, pp. 113-125), for an of its obvious importance, the history of computing remains largely outside the history of science and technology, and outside history itself.

Donald MacKenzie's study of nuclear missile guidance says relatively little about the role of computers in improving missile accuracy, aside from short discussions of "Q" guidance (essentially techniques for shifting the computing burden out of the missile and onto more powerful computers somewhere else) and the transition from analog to digital machines. But his study says a lot about how to place technical history into a wider social and political context, and therefore offers an important model for writing the kind of critical history Mahoney had in mind.

MacKenzie concentrates on the details not because they are somehow inherently interesting but because those "mere technicalities" so often "are the key to understanding the patterns of social relatings in a technology's development" (p. 239). This makes for an oftentimes demanding account, perhaps an inevitable hazard of opening the black box, as MacKenzie likes to say. But it also makes for a story that consistently rewards the reader with fresh insights into the genesis and dynamics of the arms race and into the political economy behind it. Th...