Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Post 5: John Vincent Atanasoff

For this posting you will research the background of John Vincent Atanasoff, “the forgotten father of the computer.” Some suggested areas include: his Childhood and Family; Student years; Student and Professor at Iowa State College; Invention of the Digital Computer, the ABC; Other inventions; Legal battle between ENIAC and ABC; Bulgarian ancestry. As always, don’t forget to list your sources.

13 comments:

Sandy Wang said...
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Sandy Wang said...

Childhood and family

I’d like to talk about some interesting things about the childhood and family of the great father of digital computer.
After read Chapter 2, Precocious physicist: V. Atanasoff's Early Years, 1903-1925 (Forgotten Father of the Computer, Clark R. Mollenhoff, 1988) I found some interesting things in Atanasoff's childhood that affected his future academic life in latter years. And I'd like to summarize them as two significant persons and two significant things.

1. two significant persons
Atanasoff has a familial trddition of mathematics and physics.
A) Father—Ivan Antanasov A Bulgarian immigrant whose name was Americanized by immigration officials when he first arrived in Ellis Island in 1889. Ivan has a distressful childhood. His father was killed when he is young. And he was left in American alone to fend for himself when he was only 15. He works his way through high school and college by washing dishes and doing other chores.
He then became a self-taught electrical engineer. I think the professional background of him influenced Atanasoff a lot. Thanks to the electrical engineer father, so Atanasoff gained his first fascination with and understanding of electricity. And it’s also from him that 9-year old Atanasoff got the most important toy in his life, the Dietzgen slide rule.
B) Mother—Iva Purdy A high school graduate with a talent for mathematics and a teacher in a rural school. She’s also the initiatory teacher of Atanasoff.

2. two significant things
A) The Dietzgen slide rule This is the thing that inspires little Atanasoff’s interests in mathematics. What deeply impressed me is the mathematics talent of young Atanasoff. I can not imagine I would be interested in and would like to spend even one minute on logarithms or trigonometric functions when I was 9.
B) Two books A College Algebra by J. M. Taylor from his father’s library. Eight grade arithmetic textbooks from his mother. From these two books, Atanasoff, for the first time, know about the underline basic theories of ABC, the first electronic digital computer in the world. Great mother I would say. Iva had the great patience to talk about college algebra with a nine-year –old boy.

At last I’d like to cite the following words at the end of this chapter that moves me a lot.
“He ……opted for taking a taxi the two miles to the campus rather than carry his bags to the nearest street railway stop and then to the administration building where the department of Mathematics was housed. It was an important financial decision, for his money was in short supply and he was unaccustomed to pampering himself with the accommodations of a taxi.”(p22) I can feel the excitement and great happiness of the young man, who worked for one year to finance his college study, when he decided to go to his new university by a so expensive vehicle as a celebration of the beginning of his new life. And I begin to like this young man in personal, besides respect the father of computer.

Susana Vidrio said...

I would like to share this information about Atanasoff and Mauchly and some of the disputes about the patents of their inventions that I copied from Wikipedia:
Intellectual property entanglement
[edit]
Atanasoff meets Mauchly
John Atanasoff met John Mauchly at the December 1940 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia, where Mauchly was demonstrating his "harmonic analyzer". This was an analog calculator for analysis of weather data. Atanasoff told Mauchly about his new digital device and invited him to see it. Also during the Philadelphia trip, Atanasoff and Berry visited the patent office in Washington, where their research assured them that their concepts were new. A January 15, 1941 story in the Des Moines Register announced the ABC as "an electrical computing machine" with more than 300 vacuum tubes that would "compute complicated algebraic equations". In June 1941 Mauchly visited Atanasoff in Ames, Iowa to see the ABC. During his four day visit as Atanasoff's houseguest, Mauchly thoroughly discussed the prototype ABC, examined it, and reviewed Atanasoff's design manuscript in detail. Up to this time Mauchly had not proposed a digital computer. In September 1942 Atanasoff left Iowa State for a wartime assignment as Chief of the Acoustic Division with the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL) in Washington D.C. He entrusted his patent application for the ABC to Iowa State College administrators. It was never filed. Mauchly visited Atanasoff multiple times in Washington during 1943 and discussed Atanasoff's computing theories, but did not mention that he was working on a computer project himself until early 1944. (Mollenhoff, p. 62-66). John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert's construction of ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer, during 1943-1946 was to lead to a legal dispute two decades later over who was the actual inventor of the computer.

By 1945 the Navy, too, had decided to build a large scale computer, on the advice of John von Neumann. Atanasoff was put in charge of the project, and he asked Mauchly to help with job descriptions for the necessary staff. However, Atanasoff was also given the responsibility for designing acoustic systems for monitoring atomic bomb tests. That job was made the priority, and by the time he returned from the testing at Bikini Atoll in July of 1946, the NOL computer project was shut down due to lack of progress, again on the advice of von Neumann.

[edit]
Patent disputed
Mauchly and Eckert applied for a patent on a "General-Purpose Electronic Computer" in 1947, which was finally granted in 1964. The rights to the patent had been sold in 1951 to Remington Rand (to become Sperry Rand); that company created a subsidiary (Illinois Scientific Developments) to start demanding royalty payments from other equipment manufacturers in the electronic data processing industry in the 1960s.

The dispute over patent royalties eventually resulted in a lawsuit filed on May 26, 1967 by Honeywell Inc. against Sperry Rand in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota challenging the validity of the ENIAC patent. The trial, one of the longest and most expensive in the federal courts to that time, began on June 1, 1971, lasted until March 13, 1972, had 77 witnesses, plus 80 depositions and 30,000 exhibits. Atanasoff's machine was introduced as prior art. The case was legally resolved on Friday, October 19, 1973, when U.S. District Judge Earl R. Larson held the patent invalid, ruling that the ENIAC derived many basic ideas from the Atanasoff-Berry Computer. Judge Larson explicitly stated, "Eckert and Mauchly did not themselves first invent the automatic electronic digital computer, but instead derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff". Sperry declined to appeal the decision in Honeywell v. Sperry Rand, but it received little publicity at the time, perhaps because it was overshadowed by the Watergate Era "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by President Richard Nixon the next day. While legally vindicated, Atanasoff's victory was incomplete as the ENIAC, rather than the ABC, continued to be widely regarded as the first computer until after his death. (See computer, ENIAC and John Mauchly)

[edit]
Postwar life
Following World War II Atanasoff remained with the government and developed specialized seismographs and microbarographs for long-range explosive detection. In 1952 he founded and led the Ordnance Engineering Corporation. In 1956 he sold his company to Aerojet General Corporation and became its Atlantic Division president. The ABC computer had become just a memory. It was not until 1954 that he first heard rumors that some of his ideas may have been 'borrowed'. (The ENIAC general patent had been applied for in 1947 but was not granted until 1964.) In 1961 Atanasoff started another company, Cybernetics Incorporated. He was only gradually drawn into the legal disputes being contested by the fast growing computer companies. Following the resolution of the patent case Atanasoff was warmly honored by Iowa State College, which had since become Iowa State University, and more awards followed. He retired in Maryland and died in 1995. John Mauchly, Presper Eckert, and their families never admitted any improper conduct.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Vincent_Atanasoff

Helen said...

Atanasoff and Bulgaria

In 1970 John Atanasoff went to Bulgaria, where the Bulgarian Government conferred to him the Cyrille and Methodius Order of Merit First Class. In 2003 the Bulgarian people celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth by placing many monuments throughout the country. In the preface to one of his published memoirs Atanasoff describes the violent death of his grandfather in Bulgaria at the time of an uprising of his people against the Ottoman Turks. His father, physically scarred in this incident, came to America at the age of 13 and became an orphan just two years later. Despite this John Atanasoff was able to find something of a second home there, with the warm welcome mentioned above that predated the recognition in America of his invention of the computer, as well as induction into the Bulgarian Acadamy of Sciences. He had many friends in Bulgaria and felt a great deal of pride in his heritage, which was clearly returned by his father's nation. The Order of Merit awarded to him is named for the saints that developed the form of writing used by Slavonic peoples, a fitting honor to bestow given the reinvention of computers as communication devices.

Source:

Soonok said...

I want to mention his life based on two aspects - Obsession and Innocence... since these two actually made him come to Ames, the home of ISU and become the first inventor of the computer.

1) Obsession

Like many other great inventors, he had a huge obsession with somthing, calculating very complicated mathematical problems in a better way... Eistein had a obsession with solving light.... what is a light? what composes a light? This obsession made him a greatest physicist in the world. Like Eistein, he also was obsessed with calculating... He always thought about it. He really had a hard tim to solve this problem. As you easily can imagine, the experiments he did for inventing computer discouraged him many times. However, he finally got to figure out how the computer should work. Without crazy obsession, it could not be found at all... This obsession made him invent the first ever computer.

2) Innocence

When he had to decide where to go to get a Master degree in mathematics and physics, he chosed to come to Ames... ISU actually had a good reputation for science and technoloegy. However, he got a lot of fellowship offers from more prestigious colleges including Harvard. However, he just decided to come here since ISU is the first institution to offer an admission to him. Can you believe that? Since ISU is the first college to give him an offer, he decided to be here. The first is always special... People don't forget first experience. First experience always was remembered for a long time. I think he was pure and innocent. Since he appreicated the first offer. I might exaggerate to somewhat extent. Anyway, he actually met his first wife here at ISU. Of course, his career success made him and his wife separated eventually. I like the story about why he chosed ISU. It made him look very pure and innocent.... not tainted by a big name. Maybe these personality could give him a such a big accomplishment.

Reference;
Atanasoff, Forgotten Father of the Computer
Clark R. Mollenhoff, ISU Press, 1988

Chen, Ko-Jung said...

John Vincent Atanasoff in Iowa

John Vincent Atanasoff studied his master degree and worked as a teacher assistant in the Iowa State College. Although he had a limited social life in his school life, he developed a close and life-long friendship with Dr. Brandt who is amiable and wise professor of mathematic and Professor Fred Brandner who is also a mathematic professor.
He is very concentrated on his master degree and teaching two mathematic classes to undergraduates which makes his no time for social life. However, The Dixie Club changed his life where he met his future wife, Lura Meeks, in the thanksgiving party. Lura Meeks, a home economics major from Oklahoma, is a beautiful girl with brown-hair, blue eye, attractive, slim, self-assure and three older than John Vincent. Lura likes to dance and join the party and she had many boyfriends while in Oklahoma, but she was waiting for someone who was really going to some place. Then Lura felt like she had found someone when she first met John in the club. They felt in love quickly because they both comes from farm homes, from large families, and both were interested in an education to improve their lot in life and to conceivably do a lot more.
John Atanasoff received his master’s degree in mathematic from Iowa State College in June 1926 and married Lura few days latter. In the midway of teaching in Montana, Lura made her sudden decision to marry John although she had signed a contract to tech in 1926-1927 school years. One year latter, their first daughter, Elsie, was born and they moved to Madison, Wisconsin for John’s doctoral degree after one year after Elsie born.
John entered halfway of semester of University of Wisconsin and turned down by Professor John Hasbrouck Van Vleck who teach theoretic physicist although accepted Professor Herman March, taught Elasticity, and Professor Warren Weaver, taught Electricity and Magnetism recommended by Professor E. R. Smith, head of the Mathematics Department of Iowa State. Then John Vincent prove his ability by making Professor Van Vleck as his major professor replaced latter by Professor Gregory Wentzel and work as a instructor in mathematic at university while completing his doctoral thesis. John spent a lot of time on a Monroe calculator; one of the most advanced calculating machines of the time, in working out the complicated mathematical problems related his doctoral thesis. Because of that, John Vincent interested in developing a better and faster computing machine, and determined to see what he could do about it after he received his Ph.D. in 1930.
As a member of assistant professor in mathematics and physics in Iowa State College faculty in fall of 1930, John saw a larger group of graduate student need for faster and more effective way of obtaining solution to complicated problems in higher mathematics. During the period examination the Monroe calculator and the IBM (International Business Machines) tabulator, John promoted from assistant professor to associate professor of both mathematics and physics and moved his office from the Mathematics Department in Beardshear Hall to the Physics Building where he had more room and an office by himself. Then John Vincent concluded that the calculating devices fell into two classes- analog and digital. Then Atanasoff engaged in his effort to construct a small analog calculator called” Laplaciometer” which considered as a success in holding the error down to the acceptable engineering standard in the period, but he regarded it as having the same flaws as previous analog devices. After that, Atanasoff turned to using electronics and electric impulses as the power media and measuring stick for a computer. While encountered many difficulties, Atanasoff finally come to a tentative conclusion that base-two would be the most practical for a number of reasons. The frustration of many months of work and study baffled Atanasoff. But, in an occasional ride, he never image that he would recall many times in the next fifty years.

john thomas said...

There are always two sides to every story. I thought it would be interesting to research the Mauchly and Eckert side of the story as told by their University.

After reading all the documents, one overriding principle is clear, great inventions are the culmination of a lot of different men and womens efforts, very few great innovations can be attributed to a single individual. In this case, it appears that Atanasoff and Berry solved numerous electronic computer problems and did develop the theory and a working electronic prototype at Iowa State University.

It is also clear than Mauchly and Eckert along with numerous others at the University of Pennsylvania built ENIAC, an incredible (for its time) full scale industrial computer that launched the commercial computer market. Like Henry Ford, who did not invent the automobile, Mauchly and Eckhart early on took computing to a “level” no one had ever imagined.

I used three sources, one from the ISU website, one from the University of Pennsylvania and one from Ursinus College where Mauchly says he first conceived of the need for electrical computing.

We all know how the trial came out, it was sort of a good prevails over evil. However, I am not so sure it was all that clear, or good or evil intentions. In the Penn article, it seems that the Judge really awarded the case to Honeywell for two reasons. One, it looked as if Atanasoff and Berry did develop many of the patentable components and two, a paper was written by the head of engineering at U of Penn a year prior to the filing of the patent by Mauchly. Honeywell argued that the journal paper had become part of the public domain, and therefore ENIAC could not be patented. The judge agreed.

If it was not for the journal paper, this case may have gone the other way.

Susu Qin said...

I'd like to introduce some background information about the "ABC" computer which was invented by John and his grauate student Clifford. It includes two parts, one is the relationship between John and calculating Machine, the other is the relationship between he and Sperry Rand-Honeywell Suit.

John Atanasoff (1903-1995) was a pioneer in the field of computer science. In the late 1930s, while teaching at Iowa State University, he designed and built an electronic computing machine with one of his graduate students, Clifford Berry. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was probably the first machine to use vacuum tubes to perform its calculations.

(1)Constructed a Calculating Machine

Atanasoff's interest in building a calculating machine arose from his need to solve partial differential equations without doing the number crunching by hand, a very slow method. He decided that his machine would have to use base two, in which the only two digits are zero and one, a convention that may be represented electronically in a number of different ways. In particular, the machine that Atanasoff and Berry built did arithmetic electronically, using vacuum tubes to perform the arithmetic operations and capacitors to store the numbers. Numbers were input with punched cards. The primary innovation was that numbers in the computer were digital, and not analog, in nature. The difference between an analog computer--several working versions of which existed at the time--and a digital one is that an analog machine stores its data in terms of position, such as the exact degree of rotation of a numbered wheel, but a digital computer stores its data as a series of binary digits, the zeros and ones of base two. Atanasoff claims to have originated the term "analog" in this application.

The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was never expanded or used other than as a calculator. Although Atanasoff and Berry had plans to create a larger machine using the ABC as a building block, those plans were set aside because of World War II, and were never resumed.

During the war, Atanasoff worked at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Maryland. His only connection with computers at this time occurred when the Navy needed a computer and asked Atanasoff to construct it. Eventually, however, the Navy gave up on the project. Atanasoff then left the computer field. In 1952, he started a firm of his own, Ordnance Engineering Corp., in Frederick, Maryland. Four years later, his firm was sold to Aerojet General Corp. Atanasoff became the firm's vice president and manager of its Atlantic division. He retired from Aerojet in 1961 to become a consultant in package handling automation. Atanasoff then founded another company, Cybernetics, Inc., which his son oversaw.

(2)John and Sperry Rand-Honeywell Suit

Atanasoff became involved with computers again in 1971 when a suit was filed by Sperry Rand, which held a patent for the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) built during the War. The suit alleged that Honeywell had violated the ENIAC patent by not paying Sperry Rand royalties. Honeywell filed a counter-suit charging, among other things, that the inventors of the ENIAC machine were not the inventors of the electronic computer but that Atanasoff was. If accepted by the court, this fact would render the ENIAC patent invalid. The judge handed down his decision on October 19, 1973, finding for Honeywell and also specifically ruling that Atanasoff was the inventor of the electronic computer.

This decision touched off a great deal of controversy. Many people believe that Atanasoff did not really invent the computer but that he was responsible for designing and building a number of early computer components (such as a memory drum). It is recognized that Atanasoff did make significant contributions to the development of the electronic computer despite the fact that he never built a general-purpose computing machine. After his retirement, Atanasoff worked on a variety of projects. Among his completed inventions is a phonetic alphabet for computers. He died on June 15, 1995, in Frederick, Maryland. Atanasoff's honors include, five honorary doctoral degrees, the Navy's Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Computer Pioneer Medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and the Holley Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Other honors included the Distinguished Citation of Iowa State University, membership in the Iowa Inventors' Hall of Fame, membership in the Bulgarian Academy of Science, and Bulgaria's highest science award. In 1990, he received the National Medal of Technology from President George Bush.

Resource is
from:http://www.bookrags.com/John_Vincent_Atanasoff

Poong Oh said...

Why ABC is the first electronic digital computer.

The Atanasoff Berry Computer, or ABC, was a remarkable innovation for a number of reasons. Characteristics of modern computers trace their roots directly to the ABC, which sits at the top of the family tree of computing.
Here are six particular breakthroughs first found in the ABC include:

(1) Electronic regenerative memory -
Today's RAM memory chips employ the same concepts first employed by the ABC. While the computer is on, the memory is refreshed. Atanasoff called this "jogging" the memory. The use of the word "memory" itself in relation to computers is also credited to Atanasoff.

(2) Base 2, or binary, storage -
In other computing devices, it was customary to use the base-10 system that humans use for working with numbers. Using a base-2 system was ingenious because it took advantage of the "on-off" nature of vacuum-tube electronics and punched cards.

(3) Boolean Logic -
Today, using the "ANDs" and "ORs" of Boolean logic for computing seems natural. In the 1930s, however, primitive mechanical calculators were using decimal gears to manually crank out results. By going with base-2 arithmetic, Atanasoff made use of Boolean logic for computing possible.

(4) Separation of memory and computing functions -
In essence, all of the primary components found in today's computers -- CPU, storage devices, and memory -- were present in the ABC for the first time. The add-subtract circuits found in the ABC were modular and could be popped out and replaced much in the same way a CPU chip can be today. The memory storage in the ABC -- a total of 3.2 kilobits -- was completely separate from the add-subtract units.

(5) Global system clock-
Today's computers are often measured in terms of their "gigahertz" clock speeds. That feature of a system clock for the computer to time its operations was first introduced in the ABC, allowing more reliable and repeatable operations.

(6) Parallel processing-
Some people think that parallel processing -- the ability for a computer to do more than one thing at the same time -- is a fairly recent idea. But the ABC was far ahead of its time in this respect. It did 30 operations at once, using a technology that today we call SIMD (pronounced "sim-dee"), for Single-Instruction Multiple-Data parallel computing. Parallel processing is now universal in the design of computers from PCs to the largest mainframes.
Any one of these innovations would have been remarkable for the late 1930s. Atanasoff's breakthrough in Rock Island was to decide upon all four of these concepts in one evening - essentially the conception of the modern family of computers that we enjoy today.

http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfbdw/jva/html/innovations.htm

Avril Adrianne de Guzman said...
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Avril Adrianne de Guzman said...

I believe we have talked at length about JV Atanasoff and I hope here are a few more points that you would find interesting.

A basement is not a likely place to build a great innovation but John Atanasoff and his graduate student Clifford Berry created the first electronic digital computer in the basement of the physics department at Iowa State University in 1939.

Atanasoff and Berry do not receive the proper recognition, at least from the general public, who have no idea that an electronic digital computer was created as early as 1939, nor that it was designed and built by physicists. It is amazing to think that the computer industry, now worth in the hundreds of billions of dollars, owes its existence to a brilliant physics professor and his talented graduate student, working away at Iowa State University with a $650 research grant (no typo error there), driven by their own curiosity to think, design, and build something truly novel. It is certain that they never dreamed their modest machine would have such a profound impact on the world. (http://www.physics.ucla.edu/~ianb/history/)

The vice president and director of information and public affairs for ISU, Carl Hamilton, started the wheels moving to create a film story on the construction of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer. The film "From One John Vincent Atanasoff" was completed in 1981. On 21 October 1983 (tenth anniversary of Judge Larson's historic decision that Iowa State was the site of the construction of the first electronic digital computer and that the ENIAC had been "derived" from the ABC), the film was released and during the celebration, held at the ISU campus, JV was given a Distinguished Achievement Citation by the Iowa State University Alumni Association. Cliff Berry's widow, Jean Berry, and his mother, Mrs. Grace Berry, were recognized as relatives of the co-inventor of the ABC. (http://www.scl.ameslab.gov/ABC/Biographies.html)

Atanasoff was given the National Medal of Technology in 1990 by U.S. President George. The National Medal of Technology is the highest honor awarded by the President of the United States to America’s leading innovators for their outstanding contributions to the Nation’s economic, environmental and social well-being through the development and commercialization of technology products, processes and concepts; technological innovation; and development of the Nation’s technological manpower. The purpose of the National Medal of Technology is to recognize those who have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation, and to recognize those who have made substantial contributions to strengthening the Nation’s technological workforce. By highlighting the national importance of technological innovation, the Medal also seeks to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for and pursue technical careers to keep America at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership. (http://www.technology.gov/medal/
In any science field, there needs to be a person with the vision to define the future. John Vincent Atanasoff was a genius with such a vision. He developed the first electronic digital computer that has dramatically changed our lives. John Vincent Atanasoff gave birth to the field of electronic computing. In doing so, he also gave birth to a new era, an era of computers. The electronic age is the direct result of the invention of the computer. Never before in the history of humanity has there been an invention that grown so quickly as the computer has. Within the last twenty years, the speed and power of the computer has grown at an exponential rate. When John Vincent Atanasoff invented the computer, he probably did not know how much of an impact it would have on people's lives. Computers will be involved in every aspect of technology, and it will continue to be a part of technologies to come. The capabilities of computers are advancing every day. Soon, a computer will become more like the human brain than an electronic machine. Computers will take us to Mars, and get us back safely. Computers will always be on the edge of technology and anyone that learns to harness its power will be an important part of the future. Every aspect of our lives has changed because on the computer and its inventor, John Vincent Atanasoff. (http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/do_Atanasoff.html)

Tom said...

I'm going to talk a little bit more about what John said. I did some looking into the specifics of the trial much as he did, and gleaned my information from the following sources

http://www.scl.ameslab.gov/ABC/Trial.html
http://www.cs.iastate.edu/jva/court-papers/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Vincent_Atanasoff
http://www.scl.ameslab.gov/ABC/Articles/Gazette5-95.html

Since John (and a few others) have already talked about the trial specifics, I'll add in a bit of info about what lead up to the trial and the impact it has had.

Leadup:
In 1955, the Sperry Corporation bought the Remington Rand Corporation, becoming the Sperry Rand Corp. Soon after, they began charging royalties (which was something on the order of 1%) for the use of ideas in the ENIAC patent, which they acquired with the Remington Rand Corp. Honeywell decided to challenge the patent in the 1960's to avoid having to pay the royalties.

Since the result of the trial was that the ENIAC was based on the ideas of Atanasoff, the ENIAC patent was voided. Since Atanasoff hadn't filed a patent (although ISU did try to get a patent lawyer to patent it after Atanasoff left to work for the war effort), that put the invention of the electronic digital computer back into public domain.

The timing of this lawsuit (1967) was virtually coincidental with the design and implementation of the ARPANET, widely regarded as the first predecessor of the modern internet. The importance of this is essentially the 'good' versus 'evil' that John was getting at - The idea that the public nature of the invention (rather than patent-protected) allowed the rapid development of various computer technologies in the 1970's, which ultimately led to our modern computing age.

I think that covers all I can say about this subject without diving off into my own personal rants about the patent system these days.

karenlee said...

I would like to mention two things that haven’t been highlighted so far about Atanasoff, that first, he was involved in developing modern weapons during the WWII. Second, which I think is more interesting, is that he sought to develop a new, more effective writing system. Below is a letter Atanasoff sent to Sendov, a professor of mathematics and computer science in Bulgaria.

I despise all means used for military purposes! Although many years of my life have been dedicated to the design of machines for destroying people, I have never been happy about that. But I was bound to do it. I remember how I had to work day and night, to do research, to design new machines. Parallel with that I was already working on the alphabets… I am sure, however, that computers will be used for military purposes. Because they are very effective. And particularly important for military equipment and for the control of military operations.

-from John Atanasoff, The Electronic Prometheus-

As can be seen from this letter, Atanasoff was deeply interested in the most important means of conveying information- the live human language and its written equivalent. On receiving the Order of Cyril and Methodius First class (awarded to Bulgarians and foreigners for contribution to the Bulgarian culture) Atanasoff demonstrated knowledge of the life and deeds of Cyril and Methodius. His knowledge was due to his long-standing interest in various systems of writing. He often complained of the high percentage of illiteracy in the US, which he explained with the imperfection of written English and recognized the Cyrillic alphabet as much more adequate. This has motivated in him the desire to create a new system of writing, completely phonetic and suitable for both people and machines. This dream of his remained unfulfilled although he was striving after it till the end of his life.