I&G Thomas Goldstrasz and Henrik Pantle

Computers During World War Two

Simultaneous Independent Development of the Computer

Simultaneous independent development

      of similar phenomena is not unusual in science. Alan Turing's famous paper machine, invented especially to solve Hilbert's Dilemma, was also invented at nearly the same time in the form of Emil Post's paper factory. He had devised a quasi-Taylorist man-machine scenario possessing the same mechanised performance as the Turing machine:

      Post proposed that a definite method would be one which could be written in the form of instructions to a mindless 'worker' operating on an infinite line of 'boxes', who would be capable only of reading the instructions and
      (a) Marking the box he is in (assumed empty)
      (b) Erasing the mark in the box he is in (assumed marked)
      (c) Moving the box on his right
      (d) Moving the box on his left
      (e) Determining whether the box he is in, is or is not marked.

      (More on the Turing Machine at Andrew Hodges' Web site)

      The theoretical foundation stone for computer science - the Turing/Post machine - was not laid as a result of information problems posed by encoded military commands, it was a product of the theoretical atmosphere within the discipline of mathematical logic in 1936. Hodges comments laconically: "So even if Alan Turing had never been, his idea would soon have come to light in one form or another. It had to. It was the necessary bridge between the world of logic and the world in which people did things." (TE: 125) One could extrapolate: even if WW II hadn't taken place, this theoretical bridge would soon have been put into practise in one form or another.

In many ways, Konrad Zuse is

      the Emil Post of hardware. He is proof of the fact that things could have developed differently: that the part played in computer history by the war - and by Turing - was coincidental.

Abstract | Alan Turing | Konrad Zuse | Kittler's Theory | Literature
War as a Problem of Information Processing | Simultaneous Independent Development of the Computer

© for the translation by Thomas Goldstrasz and Nicholas Grindell 1997