Philosophical Society of Washington

The Human Computer and the Birth of the Information Age

David A. Grier
Associate Professor, George Washington University


2132nd Meeting Abstract
Friday, May 11, 2001 at 8:30 P.M.

Abstract:

Before Palm Pilots, PCs and mainframes, human computers did the calculation that is now done by electronic machines. These workers were not calculating geniuses nor idiot savants but knowledgeable people who, in other times and other circumstances, would have become scientists in their own right. They first appeared with the return of Halley's comet in 1758 and represent the impact of commercial methods on the scientific laboratory.

About the Author:

David Alan Grier is the director of the University Honors Program at the George Washington University and is an associate professor of computer science. He graduated from Middlebury College as a mathematics major and completed his PhD at the University of Washington in statistical computation. He became interested in human computers when he discovered that his grandmother had been trained to be one during the first world war. She was a mathematics major at the University of Michigan, class of 1921.

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