The Early History of Computer Engineering – Part 2

There were other signs of key jurisdictional shifts, including Akera’s explanations of how work in computer design had gradually been taken over by the National Bureau of Standards’ electronic engineers, which replaced applied mathematics. A large number of these computer projects took place with a wartime Research and Discovery programme that had wider effects on a number of fields.

The introduction of computers into electrical engineering

In the 1940s, the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) each released publications that revealed engineers were looking to expand their jurisdictions into the field of computing. The two infrastructures and orientations, however, weren’t without implications for roles that they assumed.

Competing predictions of emerging computing fields

The digital/analog divide in computing was important for electrical engineers. The digital side of things also came with an increasing divide between components and machines versus applications and mathematics. Early meetings supported this as many were largely attended by those with professional appointments and backgrounds in mathematics, the sciences, and engineering.

There was only one potential approach to the organisation of digital computing, with one team of experts looking at components and machine design, and another team focused on application. Engineers already enjoyed a great deal of prominence in the former while the latter largely included numerous non-engineers, such as mathematicians and scientists.

Others envisioned that electrical engineers would have larger jurisdiction claims. A paper by Brainerd talked about how electrical engineers had a key role to play in early computing. In 1950, however, Lofti Zadeh wrote in his treatise that it was mathematicians that deserved the credit as the principles that were the basis of a thinking machine were put forward by mathematicians.

Identities of computer engineering

As they realised their interests overlapped, in 1950 the IRE and AIEE jointly organised a conference entitled “Electron Tubes for Computers” , which managed to attract an attendance of 300. Akera said that, as a result of the enthusiasm on show at the event, the two groups agreed to organise a large and regular meeting on the subject of computing.

Others said that Brainerd was the man behind the idea. The newly established Joint Computer Conference took place in 1951 with over 900 mathematicians, scientists, and engineers present, making it one of the largest meetings of its kind to date.

While the first conference was, on the surface, focused on computer engineering, there was certainly a hint at the wider scope of the field. With an emphasis on the performance and characteristics of large-scale, working electronic digital computers, most of the conversations and published papers concentrated on individual machines, which included design and engineering issues like reliability and characteristics of performance.

While there wasn’t much space given to applications on the event schedule, a number of unofficial sessions quickly convened to talk about programming issues. Topics addressed included ways of finding and preventing errors in programming, the outlook for universal machine operating codes, and computer operating procedures.