Ken Burns: History of Computing

I’m enjoying Mike Amundsen’s keynote from API Strategy & Practice in Amsterdam again, Self-Replication, Strandbeest, and the Game of Life What von Neumann, Jansen, and Conway can teach us about scaling the API economy.

As I listen to Mike’s talk, and other talks like Bret Victor’s “The Future of Programming”, I’m reminded of how important knowing our own history is, and for some strange reason, in Silicon Valley this is we seem to excel at doing the opposite, and making a habit of forgetting our own history of computing.

The conversation around remembering the history of compute came up between Mike Amundsen and I, during the beer fueled discussion in the Taproom at Gluecon in Colorado, last May. As we were discussing the importance of the history of technology, the storytelling approach of Ken Burns came up, and Mike and I were both convinced that Ken Burns needs to do a documentary series on the history of computing.

There is something about the way that Ken Burns does a documentary that can really reach our hearts and minds, and Silicon Valley needs a neatly packaged, walkthrough of our computing history from say 1840 through 1970. I think we’ve heard enough stories about the PC era, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and what we need is a brush-up up on the hundreds of other personalities that gave us computing, and ultimately the Internet.

My mother gave me a unique perspective: that I can manifest anything. So I will make this Ken Burns: History of Computing series happen, but I need your help. I need you to submit the most important personalities and stories you know from the history of computing, that should be included in this documentary. To submit, just submit as issue on the Github repository for this site, or if you are feeling adventurous, you submit as Jekyll blog post for this site, and I'll accept your commit.

Keep any submission, focused, and about just a single person, technology or idea. Once we get enough submissions, we can start connecting the dots, weaving together any further narratives. My goal is to generate enough research for Mr. Burns to use when he takes over the creative process, and hopefully to generate enough buzz to get him to even notice that we exist. ;-)

It is my belief that we are at a critical junction where our physical worlds are colliding with this new virtual world, driven by technology. To better understand what is happening, I think we need to pause, and talk a walk through our recent history of compute technology, and learn more about how we got here--I couldn’t think of a better guide, than Ken Burns.

Thanks for entertaining my crazy delusions, and helping me assemble the cast of characters, that Ken Burns can use when crafting The History of Compute. Hopefully we can learn a lot along the way, as well as use the final story to help bring everyone up to speed on this crazy virtual world we’ve created for ourselves.

Photo Credit: Hagley Museum and Library and UNISYS