1-2 Scope and Periodization of Computer History

First, let’s organize and define the tasks that should be the focus of historical research on computers. We will determine the themes that can be addressed within the limited space available.

  1. Development of foundational theories
  • The theory of computation: The development of foundational theories such as Boolean algebra, Turing machines, and programming language theory is an important area that is related to both mathematical foundations and linguistics. However, in this paper, we will only briefly mention limited topics and provide some classical reference books.
  • Information encoding: Since Shannon’s work in 1948, theories in fields such as digitalization of analog signals, information compression, and cryptography have been developed and have had significant practical value. This field will not be extensively covered in this paper.
  • Circuit theory: Techniques and theories related to circuits that realize complex response characteristics using multiple components are important as the foundation of computer design technology and have made remarkable advancements. We will only address the issues raised in this field.
  • Solid-state physics: Magnetic materials, semiconductors, and more recently, dielectrics are fundamental materials in solid-state electronics. Their development is based on the progress of quantum theory in solids. We will not delve into the internal history of this field.
  • Other topics related to fundamental fields of physics and mathematics, such as quantum theory and statistical mechanics, are also relevant. We plan to address topics that are historically significant.
  1. Advancements in architecture and computing devices
  • This has been the core field of computer history in traditional research. The usual approach in historiography is to describe history in line with this development and appropriately incorporate other related factors. As we will focus on reviewing existing studies, this paper will follow that approach.
  1. Development of software development
  • The share of software and maintenance services in the revenue of the computer industry has surpassed that of hardware for a long time. There are also comprehensive histories centered around the development of software. However, most of them are treated in relation to hardware. Unless there are special cases, we will also address them in that context.
  1. Development and production of parts, peripherals, and their production systems
  • Parts other than arithmetic units that are at least minimally part of the architecture, such as input/output devices, main memory devices, and auxiliary memory devices, as well as their components and manufacturing equipment, are important fields in the computer industry. However, due to their extensive relationship with electrical and electronic engineering and precision mechanical engineering, we will only address some aspects within the context of (2).
  1. Rise and fall of computer-related companies and management history
  • There are interesting topics such as the involvement with the defense industry in the early stages, the oligopoly structure during the era of large general-purpose computers, and the proliferation of benchmark companies in the era of diversification. It is also important as a problem of technology transfer.
  1. Expansion of application fields
  • Usage started with military and scientific calculations, then expanded to production systems and administrative management, and recently even extended to the field of arts. It is important to consider the influence from the user side.
  1. Social impact and critical reviews
  • The early model of a managerial society (“1984” by Orwell), Toffler’s “The Third Wave,” and other similar works represent the social impact and critical evaluations of computers.There is a vast flow of essays ranging from recent critiques of “digital capitalism” to the optimism of the past. It is important to keep a record of the major literature on this topic.