iSGTW - International Science Grid This Week
iSGTW - International Science Grid This Week

Home > iSGTW - 22 September 2010 > Link of the Week - When computers were human


Link of the Week: When computers were human

Image courtesy David Grier

The photo at right may look rather ordinary but in fact this office is much more exciting than it seems. The men and women working away at these desks are in fact a sort of human computer, employed by the Mathematical Tables Project in New York City in the 1930s and ’40s under a Works Progress Administration program to fight the ravages of the Great Depression.

The Mathematical Tables Project consisted of 450 ‘human computers’ — many of whom had been close to homelessness during the financial collapse. The large majority of the staff had not even completed high school, yet they were brought together to perform calculations for government and scientists in an era  before the first working general-purpose, electronic computer (generally agreed to be ENIAC, or “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer”).

The Mathematical Tables Office Computing Floor shown in the photo above was split up according to arithmetic function. Workers were assigned to either addition, subtraction, multiplication, or (if they were deemed skilled enough) division calculations. Working from 1938 to 1948, they produced tables of powers, trigonometric functions, probability functions, and contributed to the Handbook of Mathematical Functions, the largest-selling book in scientific history. In fact, you’ve probably used material from the book yourself.

The Mathematical Tables Project was in a sense an early form of “crowd sourcing,” says David Grier, who introduced the project in the opening session of the Citizen Cyberscience Summit earlier this month.

For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to hear his talk, you can find out more about this group and the remarkable stories behind it in Grier’s book “When Computers Were Human” from Princeton University Press.

—Manisha Lalloo, eScience Talk


 iSGTW 22 December 2010

Feature – Army of Women allies with CaBIG for online longitudinal studies

Special Announcement - iSGTW on Holiday

Video of the Week - Learn about LiDAR


NeHC launches social media

PRACE announces third Tier-0 machine

iRODS 2011 User Group Meeting

Jobs in distributed computing


Enter your email address to subscribe to iSGTW.


 iSGTW Blog Watch

Keep up with the grid’s blogosphere

 Mark your calendar

December 2010

13-18, AGU Fall Meeting

14-16, UCC 2010

17, ICETI 2011 and ICSIT 2011

24, Abstract Submission deadline, EGI User Forum


January 2011

11, HPCS 2011 Submission Deadline

11, SPCloud 2011

22, ALENEX11

30 Jan – 3 Feb, ESCC/Internet2


February 2011

1 - 4, GlobusWorld '11

2, Lift 11

15 - 16, Cloudscape III

More calendar items . . .


FooterINFSOMEuropean CommissionDepartment of EnergyNational¬†Science¬†Foundation RSSHeadlines | Site Map