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Comments, Queries and Debate: Churchill's Early Reference to Automatic Calculators Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129876D
Original Publication Date: 1995-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 2 page(s) / 15K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Eric A. Weiss: AUTHOR [+2]


P.O. Box 537 Kailua, HI 96734

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Copyright ©; 1995 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries and Debate: Churchill's Early Reference to Automatic Calculators

Eric A. Weiss

P.O. Box 537 Kailua, HI 96734

As mechanical and electronic devices became increasingly common in the years between the World Wars, electrical engineers and other technical people concerned with telephony and radio often discussed among themselves -- but seldom wrote about -- the concepts that contributed to what we now call computers Writers and politicians, on the other hand, who as a class were deliberately and totally innocent of any technical knowledge, almost never referred to these matters. So it is unusual to find Winston S. Churchill in 1930 making reference to "automatic calculating machines," as he did in Chapter IX of My Early Life, A Roving Commission, first published in October 1930 by Macmillan.

In discussing the philosophical arguments about reality that he had as a young man with his better educated fellow army officers, Churchill gives this as his clinching conclusion:

   (Image Omitted: We have got independent testimony to the reality of the sun. When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say "Nb."They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage.)

Churchill implies that he used the argument in Bangladore, where he was stationed as early as 1898, but it seems doubtful that a young cavalry officer of his class at that time would have had any familiarity with any kind of calculating machine. It is more likely that he developed this part of his argument after he had been exposed, during service as First Lord of the Admiralty (1911- 1915), to the analog devices that then guided lathes, steered ships, pointed guns, and operated torpedoes. His reference to starting these machines as a consequence of "light falling upon them" is also more likely dated to the publication of his book, when photoelectric cells, while not common, had become well known to the technical world.

(Image O...