The birth of computer networking

I had arrived at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) in the summer of 1971, knowing of the important work there in artificial intelligence, computer simulations in psychology, and natural language understanding. But I understood only vaguely the explosive potential of the work on computer networking.

Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing was a movie made to accompany the public demo of the ARPANET at the 1st International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington DC in October, 1972, about a year after my arrival. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t finished in time for the demo, but it was released before the end of that year. I didn’t have anything to do directly with the movie or the work described, but knew many of the people and projects that are featured.

The movie represents both a thoughtful account and a primary source itself for the general history of computing and communication. It also tells us about successful collaboration–how participants at the time themselves described it. I think it also gives a good account of the motivations behind the ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet, and a good basic description of how it works.

Hidden Her-story: The Top-Secret “Rosies” of World War II

leann_ericksonNorma Scagnoli referred me to a wonderful podcast by LeAnn Erickson, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts at Temple University. Erickson is an independent video/filmmaker, whose work has appeared on public television, in galleries, and has won national and international awards.

Entitled, Hidden Her-story: The Top-Secret “Rosies” of World War II, it was recorded in January at the EDUCAUSE 2009 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Philadelphia. I expected to listen for a minute and then go on to more pressing things, but after listening a little I decided that those things weren’t so pressing after all. It’s a fascinating story for anyone who has an interest in history, computers, women, education, mathematics, warfare, politics, Philadelphia, science, workplace equity, morality, or life in general.

In 1942, only months after the United States entered World War II, a secret military program was launched to recruit women to the war effort. But unlike recruiting “Rosie” to the factory, this search targeted female mathematicians who would become human “computers” for the U.S. Army. These women worked around-the-clock shifts creating ballistics tables that proved crucial to Allied victory. “Rosie” made the weapons, but the female computers made them accurate. When the first electronic computer (ENIAC) was invented to aid ballistic calculation efforts, six of these women were tapped to become its first programmers. “Top Secret ´Rosies’: The Female ‘Computers’ of WWII” is a documentary project currently in postproduction that will share this untold story of the women and technology that helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age.

Controls for the podcast appear beneath the description on the EDUCAUSE page.

Copernicus and Erasmus

genealogy1The Mathematics Genealogy Project and its cousins, the AI [artificial intelligence] Genealogy Project, and the Philosophy Family Tree are attempts to compile information about scholars in various fields, including where they received their degrees and the titles of their dissertations. The information is organized in an academic family tree, in which one’s adviser is one’s parent.

Here’s the mission statement for the Mathematics Genealogy Project:

The intent of this project is to compile information about ALL the mathematicians of the world. We earnestly solicit information from all schools who participate in the development of research level mathematics and from all individuals who may know desired information.

Please notice: Throughout this project when we use the word “mathematics” or “mathematician” we mean that word in a very inclusive sense. Thus, all relevant data from statistics, computer science, or operations research is welcome.

I’m actually in all three of these trees. My PhD is in Computer Sciences, specifically in AI; the core of the dissertation is in mathematical logic; and my adviser, Norman Martin, was a philosopher. His work was in the area of logic, as was that of a committee member, Michael Richter, a mathematician.

One of the best Christmas presents I received was a depiction of this tree made by Emily and Stephen (above, click to enlarge). There is so much detail, that you need to see the full-scale poster to read it all, but you may be able to make out the names of my adviser, and co-adviser, Robert F. Simmons, as well as early ancestors, Copernicus and Erasmus. It’s fun to explore the connections, which ultimately show how interconnected we all are.

Dissertation: The logical structure underlying temporal references in natural language

Bruce, B. C. (1971). The logical structure underlying temporal references in natural language. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, Computer Sciences Department. [Note: The archival file is very large; here’s the content in a smaller file size.]

Committee: Norman M. Martin (Co-Chair), Robert F. Simmons (Co-Chair), Michael Richter, Terrence W. Pratt

From the Introduction:

Temporal reference in natural language include tenses and other time relations, references to specific times, and a variety of phrases such as “present”, “later”, “when”, “how often”, and “never”. Their high frequency of occurrence reflects the importance of time to the users of natural language. Although the structure underlying temporal references may appear complicated, it is a working assumption of this thesis that a sound logical explanation of its characteristics can be made.

The frequent use of temporal references makes a correct exhibition of their underlying structure vital to a full understanding of natural language. Such an understanding is important in teaching and translating, indeed in all uses of natural languages. In addition, understanding language better should aid in the design of computer programs which process natural languages.

Chapter 2 of this thesis surveys some relevant work on temporal references, both to show what has been done and to show the scope of the problem. Despite the divergence in terminology and viewpoint, a unified theory can be derived which relates and extends the previous work.

The new theory is presented in Chapter 3. It is a formal system which models the intuitive meaning of tenses, time relations, and other references to the time of events. The system precisely defines and shows the interrelationships of concepts which are often only vaguely defined. By its generality and its logical foundation, the system is able to serve as a skeleton for further studies of time in language.

To illustrate some of the features of the system a question answering computer system, called Chronos, was written which accepts information in the form of tensed sentences and answers questions about the time of events. This program is discussed in Chapter 4.

Chapter 5 discusses a problem which arises when we consider assigning truth values to statements about events occurring at times other than the present. The problem is to define a logic for unknown outcomes which retains the two valued technologies. A logic is presented which has two kinds of implication: a material implication for which all the classical tautologies hold, and a strict implication defined in terms of logical necessity. The strict implication fragment of this logic is shown to be slightly stronger than the Lewis (1959) system S5, although it avoids many of the so-called paradoxes of material implication. The logic of Chapter 5 is a useful extension of the system for tenses (Chapter 3) to situations in which future (and perhaps past) events may have the truth value “unknown”.

Chapter 6 is a discussion section which evaluates the tense system, the logic for unknown outcomes, and the program Chronos. Several possibilities for extending the thesis are discussed.

Chapter Title Page
1 Introduction 1
2 Background 4
3 A Model for Temporal References in Natural Language 37
4 Chronos 54
5 A Logic for Unknown Outcomes 70
6 Discussion 85
7 References 89

Chapters 3 and 4 were combined, revised, and published as

Bruce, B. C. (1972). A model for temporal references and its application in a question answering program. Artificial Intelligence: An International Journal, 3, 1-26.

Chapter 5 was revised and published as

Bruce, B. C. (1976). A logic for unknown outcomes. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, 17, 542-550. Also as Report No. CBM-TM-35. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Computer Science Department.