Video of Early, Distributed Computing, Predating the Net

Cory at BoingBoing shares this unintentionally quirky video from 1959 that was produced at the behest of Simon Ramo, of TRW. It discusses an idea in which he was presumably interested, if not invested, a mouthful of jargon terms that essentially mean distributed, re-configurable computer components. The collection to which this digitized copy of the film belongs, the Prelinger Archives, is hosted at the Internet Archive.

What is described is nothing less than adding a network between the various components of a big iron mainframe–“distributed control, distributed arithmetics, distributed everything”. There are hints though of the sort of edge of network design with which we are so familiar today. The “switchboard” metaphor in the video also shares the ability to route around problems that even the earliest incarnations of the Internet possessed.

The presentation of the idea never quite escapes the dominant model of centralized computing resources of the day, for all its goose bump inducing flashes. For comparison I’d say that Murray Leinster’s story, “A Logic Named Joe”, is still much closer to the modern Internet. Leinster describes logics, or something very similar to a PC, much more tightly knitted into every day life. Ramo’s film is much more evocative of corporate back office computation rather than the information and entertainments Leinster envisioned. The residual centralization of resources in “Joe” is not too far from the variety of heavy duty servers increasingly labeled as just the cloud and put to very similar use.

My sole remaining question is where is there more information on the system mentioned at the very end of the film, the one that sounds like it was the culmination of even earlier work?

Early distributed computing video, 1959, prefigures the net, BoingBoing

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