Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Alan I. Marcus
Since World War II, state support for scientific research has been assumed crucial to technological and economic progress. Governments accordingly spent tremendous sums to that end. Nothing epitomizes the alleged fruits of that involvement better than the electronic digital computer. The first such computer has been widely reputed to be the ENIAC, financed by the U.S. Army for the war but finished afterwards. Vastly improved computers followed, initially paid for in good share by the Federal Government of the United States, but with the private sector then dominating, both in development and use, and computers are of major significance.;Despite the supposed success of public-supported science, evidence is that computers would have evolved much the same without it but at less expense. Indeed, the foundations of modern computer theory and technology were articulated before World War II, both as a tool of applied mathematics and for information processing, and the computer was itself on the cusp of reality. Contrary to popular understanding, the ENIAC actually represented a movement backwards and a dead end.;Rather, modern computation derived more directly, for example, from the prewar work of John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, a physics professor and graduate student, respectively, at Iowa State College (now University) in Ames, Iowa. They built the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC), which, although special purpose and inexpensive, heralded the efficient and elegant design of modern computers. Moreover, while no one foresaw commercialization of computers based on the ungainly and costly ENIAC, the commercial possibilities of the ABC were immediately evident, although unrealized due to war. Evidence indicates, furthermore, that the private sector was willing and able to develop computers beyond the ABC and could have done so more effectively than government, to the most sophisticated machines.;A full and inclusive history of computers suggests that Adam Smith, the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, had it right. He believed that minimal and aloof government best served society, and that the inherent genius of citizens was itself enough to ensure the general prosperity.
Digital Repository @ Iowa State University, http://lib.dr.iastate.edu
Byron Paul Mobley
Mobley, Byron Paul, "The ingenuity of common workmen: and the invention of the computer " (2001). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 660.