Howard Aiken


Howard Aiken
Howard Hathaway Aiken, born on 9 March 1900 in Hoboken, New Jersey, died March 14 in 1973 in Saint Louis, Missouri, was an American computer scientist. A pioneer in computer science, he was the principal engineer behind the Harvard Mark I computer from IBM.

Howard Hathaway Aiken was born in Hoboken in New Jersey on March 9 1900. He studied in Madison, the University of Wisconsin where he graduated in Science in 1923 and became a professor at the University of Miami.

It includes studies in 1935 in Cambridge (Harvard University) for a PhD in physics. His thesis focuses on the improvement of vacuum tubes. This work deals mainly with journeys of charged particles and calls for the resolution of nonlinear differential equations that can not be solved by approximations, requiring long and tedious calculations.

Then he thinks to mechanize these calculations, improving the Hollerith machines, in particular, enabling them to the 4 arithmetic and mathematical functions such as logarithms or trigonometric functions and operations without chaining human intervention.

It outlines the project in a memorandum addressed to the chairman of the physics department of Cambridge, Frederick Saunders. It shows him having heard by a laboratory technician named Carmelo Lanza, a somewhat similar machine stored in an attic of the university.

Lanza took him in the attic where he discovered a set of brass gears, which are other than pieces of the Analytical Engine Charles Babbage who, as everyone knows, has never been completed. Having obtained in addition to the hands of own little son of the great British inventor a series of books by and about Babbage, Aiken quickly realizes that his project was quite similar to Babbage 100 years ago.

The management of Harvard eventually accept the draft which is also the U.S. Navy to its ballistic calculations. Aiken contacted the Monroe Calculating Company, which declines the offer but suggested the name of Tom Watson, IBM boss. It agrees to build the machine and bear two thirds of the funding, the rest being paid by the Navy.

The construction started in 1939 at IBM in Endicott under the direction of Clair D. Lake attended by Frank Hamilton and Benjamin Durfee, Aiken overseeing everything. (We see these 4 characters on the photo to the ASCC, from left to right: Hamilton, Lake, Aiken, Durfee). Although at that time the technology was available electronic tubes, the machine will be built with relays, cheaper technology that IBM mastered on its mechanical equipment. It bears the name of ASCC: Automatic Sequence Control Computer.

The work will cost very expensive and will be delayed by the war. They will not be completed until late 1943 and the machine, given by IBM at Harvard will be transported.

The ASCC was the main feature has 72 records of 23 decimal digits it commanded itself, which allowed the chain operations.

She was 3 additions or subtractions per second, an increase in 6 seconds and a complex function (logarithm, sinus ...) in a minute or more. If it was very slow, it was also very reliable and worked without error 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 15 years (note in passing that any micro today take a few seconds to make all operations CSAC has made during its 15 years of life). The program was entered perforated tape, data on punched card and exits were on teletype. Grace Murray Hopper, sent by the Navy work on the ASCC will actively participate in its programming.

In material terms, as all machines comparable to the time, the ASCC was impressive: 15 meters long, 5 tons, 750 000 components, wheels records in 2200, 3300 relay, 800 miles of wiring. The machine is synchronized by a tree along its entire length, as the old carpentry or mechanics. A 5 hp engine is running.

After the transfer of the machine at Harvard controversy take place between Aiken and Watson on his paternity and poor Watson is not even invited to the inauguration!

Suddenly the machine will be called Harvard Mark 1, the name under which she is best known today. Do not confuse with the Manchester Mark 1 which we have already spoken.

IBM on one side, Aiken of the other developing machines tubes on the same architecture: the fate IBM SSEC (Selective Sequence Electronic Control) in 1958 in January 1948. Aiken expand the Harvard Mark 2 (1947), 3 (1949) and 4 (1952).

Aiken is also involved in education from 1947 and created especially lab of Harvard's first in the world. He retired from Harvard in 1961 but continues to teach in Miami. It has also published books on electronics and on the theory of switching.

In 1964 he received the Computer Society of the Harry M. Goode Memorial Award (a medal and $ 2,000) for "its contribution to automatic calculation, which led to the first large digital calculator universal. It will also receive awards from around the world, USA, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and France.

He died in St. Louis on March 14 1973.

Read also Alexander Graham Bell

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