The Bifurcation is Near

differential-analyzer

I’m starting a sequence of posts on Medium that are explorations relating to my next book. The first is now up. It begins with a story about the origins of the digital computer:

When the United States was thrust into World War II in December of 1941, all types of inputs into the war effort were suddenly in short supply: rubber, coal, iron ore, and, of course, human computers.

Human computers were just people doing math. They were needed to perform computational work of a military variety — particularly the generation of firing tables, used by artilerymen to set aim on enemy targets. At the U.S. Army’s primary weapons testing facility in Aberdeen, Maryland — the Ballistic Research Laboratory — the demand for this specialized labor was so great that the military established a secret unit called the Philadelphia Computing Section (PCS) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. The army recruited one hundred human computers, mostly women, from the University of Pennsylvania and neighboring schools…

You can read the rest here.