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In the March 1949 issue of Radio Electronics there is a watershed article titled The Electronic Brain by W.R. Ashby, M.A., M.D.
The author describes recent (for 1949) advances in electronics and how they can be applied to the development of an artificial intelligence. He correctly predicts the potential of the vaccum tube as it relates to action-result feedback.
"..But nowadays the word "machine" has a much richer meaning, the position having been transformed by the invention of the electron tube. This device has two main properties: it allows power to be injected freely into a machine, causing high activity, and it provides a means by which one part of a machine can affect the behavior of another part with little back-action. At last those who would build a brain have something comparable in the functioning powers with the nerve cell."
Ashby illustrates his point by describing a facinating device called the Homeostat, which demonstrates negative feedback learning. He also discusses how this capability represents an advance in how electronic computers can "learn". He theorizes about how the Homeostat would approach the game of chess. "..the homeostat ... needs no detailed instructions, only some method by which it is informed of the occurence of illegal moves and mates. How the machine is to avoid these undesireable informations (feedbacks) is left entirely to the machine to puzzle out for itself. (The adaptations already shown by the homeostat encourage the confidence that whith only minor developments the machine will succeed)...
The homeostat would start off like any other player - simply by making more or less random movements. But the feedback would soon stop it making illegal movements, and it would tend steadily to avoid the moves that lead to a rapid loss of the game. .."
Other computers of the era, such as the Eniac, were limited to a set of detailed yet fixed instructions and no feedback mechanism. The Eniac had no means to learn or improve when performing such tasks as playing chess.
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There's a new computer museum at the University of Delaware and I am working as a sort of technical advisor to help assemble exhibits. Those of you at the Vintage Computer Festival will recognize it. The "TRS 80 Model 1 30th Anniversary" exhibit from the festival has found a home. Pictured are computers donated to the University, plus items from my collection. This fall I will be teaching a class titled "Preservation of Historical Microcomputers" as an adjunct professor. For more pics and information click here.
From the Metropolis Mailbag:
"...Thousands of DC readers have avidly followed the spectacular duels between SUPERMAN and his greatest foe, the nefarious scientist, BRAINIAC..."
And now let us go behind the scenes and unveil a remarkable coincidence. The fictional character, "Brainiac," was created for us by Otto Binder, a famous science fiction writer who is currently the editor of "Space World," a magazine for rocket experts. ..
Shortly after the first "Brainiac" story appeared in ACTION COMICS, in 1956, we learned that a REAL "Brainiac" existed ... in the form of an ingenious "Brainiac Computer Kit" invented in 1955 by Edmumd C. Berkeley. Mr. Berkeley is a distinguished scientist and a world authority on automation, computers and robots.
In deference to his "Brainiac," which pre-dates ours, with this issue of SUPERMAN we are changing the characterization of our "Brainiac" so that the master-villain will henceforth possess a "computer personality." ...
Readers will be interested to learn that they can build their own "Brainiac" by purchasing one of Mr. Berkeley's computer kits and assembling the parts. Thousands of youngsters, as well as adults, have bought these kits and, by following the simple directions, have been able to construct home-made computers which can solve interesting problems of all kinds. "Brainiac kits cost less than $20.00 and make an ideal educational hobby. For more information, write for free literature to: Berkeley Enterprises, Inc., 815 Washington Street, Newtonville 60, Mass. .."
The Model ASR 33 Teletype was the defacto I/O device for early microcomputer pioneers. These machines were used as both display terminals AND storage. Today, it is not easy to come by a working unit and you have to usually scrounge around for parts. The other day I picked up another ASR 33, below. This one looks worse than it really is! A few turns of the screw and ... actually the power supply is fine, and that's really what I bought it for. Check the blog area for updates on this project.
I have begun the ambitious project of archiving all the Commodore disks in my inventory. Although I have the process down to less than 30 seconds per disk, it will still take many months to complete the project.
Learn more about how to make backups of Commodore disks.
What the heck, vintagecomputer.net is now also cybercrud.com, named after the Theodor Nelson Computer Lib article. What is Cybercrud?
Educate yourself: Selected Computer History Articles
Switch to DOS Prompt view
Vintage Computer Festival East 3.0 June 2006
Commodore B Series Prototypes July 2006
VOLSCAN - The first desktop computer with a GUI? Oct 2006
ROBOTS! - Will Robots Take Over? Nov 2006
Magnavox Mystery - a Computer, or? Jan 2007
The 1973 Williams Paddle Ball Arcade Computer Game Feb 2007
The Sperry UNIVAC 1219 Military Computer May 2007
VCF East 2007 - PET 30th Anniversary June/July 2007
The Electronic Brain August 2007
Community Memory and The People's Computer Company October 2007
Charles Babbage's Calculating Machine December 2007
Vintage Computing - A 1983 Perspective February 2008
Laptops and Portables May 2008
From Giant Brains to Hobby Computers - 1957 to 1977 August 2008
Historic Computer Magazines November 2008
World's Smallest Electronic Brain - Simon (1950) December 2008 - Feb 2009
Free Program Listings Feb - March 2009