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What Analog Computers Tell Us About the Past and Future of Computing

FDA177, 2004HT

Status Archive
School Computer and Information Science (CIS)
Division HCS
Owner JM Nyce

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Course plan

No of lectures

5 seminars

Recommended for

Recommended for PhD students.

The course was last given

New course


See Organization and Contents



Invited speakers will give seminar papers. Prior to each of their seminars, speakers will provide students with suggestions for readings as well as an outline and summary points.

HE Nissen and JM Nyce will cochair the seminars. They will, introduce seminar speakers and provide overview and introductory material. In a word, the cochairs will be responsible for providing coherence and continuity. They will also coedit and contribute to the proceedings (conference papers) that will be published from the seminar.

Guest speakers will include historians of computers, endusers and developers of historic analog machines and computer scientists who today are building new analog machines using innovative theory and materials (extruded plastic, for example). In brief the seminar would provide students with a variety of opportunities (from the practical to the theoretical) to explore an alternative model of computing and computation.


This seminar will focus on analog computers and computation. While the seminar will provide a history of these machines and this form of computation, it will not be limited to these issues. The point of the seminar is to ask questions like "Given niche requirements, what constitutes appropriate computation and computers?" With the rise of interest in mobile, pervasive and ubiquitous computing, questions of this kind have taken on an additional importance and significance.

There is a growing awareness that accepted, conventional forms of computation and computers may need to be rethought to address the challenges that are inherent in moving computers from machine to utility or applicance. The lines we now draw between input/output, application and representation with digital machines can be rethought and reengineered with analog computation.

What this seminar offers is an opportunity to look critically at what we have taken for granted when we mean computation and computers.


1. Introduction: What are the key concepts?
G. Bateson
1968 Redundancy and Coding. In Animal Communication; Techniques of Study and Results of Research. (Report on the Wenner Gren Conference on Animal Communication, held June 13-22, 1965, at Burg Wartenstein, Austria.) Thomas A. Sebeok, ed., 614-626. Bloomington, Indiana and London: Indiana University Press.
Transactions-Conference on Cybernetics. New York: Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. selections esp v. 7 (1951) 11-52.
S Helms (1991) The Cybernetics Group. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 249-272.
re: Macy Conferences also see http://www.asc-cybernetics.org/foundations/history2.htm

2. History of Analog Computers
J Dupuy (2000) The Mechanization of the Mind… Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. selections.
D Mindell (2002) Between Human and Machine… Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. chap, 11.
L Owens Where Are We Going Phil Morse… Annals of the History of Computing 1996 18.4:34-41.

3. Practitioners/End Users: What is it like to think and work "analog"?
G Hartley (1962) An Introduction to Electronic Analogue Computers. London: Methuen. selections.
M Johansson Early Analog Computers in Sweden… Annals of the History of Computing 1996 18.4:27-33.
J Small (2001) The Analogue Alternative. London: Routledge. chaps 3, 7.

4. The Present Day
J. Nyce (1994) Nature's Machine: Mimesis, the Analog Computer and the Rhetoric of Technology. In Computing With Biological Metaphors. Ray Paton ed., 415-423. London: Chapman & Hall.
L Rubel The Brain as an Analog Computer, Journal Theoretical Neurobiology 1985 4:73-81.
D Silva Gra The General Purpose Analog Computer and Recursive Functions… http://www.cs.math.ist.utl.pt/ftp/pub/GracaDS/02-G-MScThesis.pdf
J Mills (1995) Programmable VSLI Extended Analog Computer for Cyclotron Beam Control. Indiana Univ. Comp. Sci. TR 441.

5 Summary: The Need To Rethink Central Concepts?


Introduction, Concluding seminars Nissen, Nyce + 5
guest speakers/seminars total 7


HE Nissen (Lund) and JM Nyce (IDA)


Students are asked to write a paper - worth three points. Depending on the paper's quality, a student may receive as much as 2 more points. Paper topics are to be discussed with and approved by one of the seminar's faculty members.For the three points, we also expect students to read seminar handouts and to take an intelligent, active part in class discussions.


3-5 credits


The readings and speakers may change.

Page responsible: Director of Graduate Studies
Last updated: 2012-05-03