Archive
Computers
Early OCR (Feb, 1949)

Reading Machine Spells Out Loud

Experimental eleetronic device looks at printing and says what it sees — at the rate of 60 words a minute.

By Martin Mann

PS photos by Hubert Luckett

SOME time ago, The New Yorker magazine satirically described the invention of a reading machine. “It is obvious,” a fictional Professor Entwhistle was quoted as saying, “that the greatest waste of our civilization is the time spent in reading. We have been able to speed up practically everything. . . . But today a man takes just as long to read a book as Dante did. … So I have invented a machine. It operates by a simple arrangement of photoelectric cells. . .”

A simple arrangement of photoelectric cells that will read a book for you now has been unveiled by RCA researchers. The device looks at printed matter and reads it aloud, letter by letter. It sounds like a radio announcer spelling out “R-I-N-S-O.”

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Inside IBM’s World’s Fair ‘Egg’ (Jul, 1964)

For a lot more info check out this page on the amazing New York Worlds Fair ’64 site.

Inside IBM’s World’s Fair ‘Egg’

FROM a distance, it looks like the storage tank for the Festival of Gas. But as New York World’s Fair visitors draw nearer, they find themselves in a people trap—IBM’s wonderfully zany exhibit pavilion, featuring the Information Machine.

It’s really a theater that sits atop a forest of 45 stylized, 32-foot-high sheet-metal trees. Their cleverly dovetailed branches support 14,000 gray and green Plexiglas leaves, forming a continuous, one-acre canopy.

You join a couple of thousand others who are queueing up on a complex of catwalks suspended above a shallow pool. The ramps lead to a 45-degree tilted grandstand, holding 500 spectators. Eventually, you take your place on what IBM calls the “people wall.” Its 12 tiers of seats are no sooner filled than an M.C. in white tie and tails comes gliding down above you in a “bucket.” He promises that in the next 12 minutes you’ll learn that computers make use of everyday methods we all use in our daily lives to solve complicated problems.

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Breaking the Language Barrier (Apr, 1958)

Very cool, if a somewhat optimistic article from 1958 about machine translation.

Breaking the Language Barrier

Each year, millions of reports on scientific research are published—a big fraction of them in foreign languages. In this mass of Russian, Dutch, Chinese, Hindustani data are clues to H-power, interplanetary flight, more powerful batteries, longer-wearing tires. The trouble is: Too few scientists and engineers read foreign languages. What we need is a machine to read one language and type in another: an automatic translator. We’re trying to build—not one, but several. Engineering problems? Fantastic. Here’s where we stand now.

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Mechanical Chess Opponent (Jul, 1951)

I love how they speak in absolutes “never makes a mistake”, “perfect chess techniques”. I’m worndering how it could possibly play chess at all. My guess is that what they mean is it always makes a legal move, i.e. pawns don’t go sideways.

Also, does that board look a little small to you?

Mechanical Chess Opponent
Chess fans can play solitaire against a machine that never makes a mistake. Invented by a Spaniard, the machine teaches perfect chess techniques. Whenever an error is made in play, a light flashes on automatically.

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Dawn of the Electronic Age (Jan, 1952)

Odd article written by Lee deForest the inventor of the Audion, a vacuum tube amplifier that ushered in the radio and electronics age. He discusses the origins and growth of electronics and what the future may bring, including dissing the transistor and living room walls that keep one warm by microwaves. He also has some firm opinions regarding the uses to which his invention has been put:

The microphone-amplifier-loudspeaker combination is having an enormous effect on our civilization. Not all of it is good! Consider to what heights of impudence and tyranny, and to what depths of moral depravity, has radio broadcasting and the loudspeaker attained in that recent monstrosity, Transit Radio, Inc. Almost incredible is the loathsome fact that already in 21 cities bus riders must listen to never-ending, blatant advertising and unwelcome jitterbug and bop music, “viciously repugnant to the spiritual and intellectual assumptions of American life,” as Prof. Charles Black of Columbia University wrote. This outrage is unquestionably the all-time low to which radio broadcasting can sink.

Dawn of the Electronic Age
By Lee deForest (“Father of Radio”)

WHEN VOCAL SOUND first became articulate the ancestor of man leaped suddenly from the dumb shackles of the brute. The first crude sign writing, whereby thoughts might be recorded, helped to bring scattered men and tribes into social units and establish contact with future generations through the permanency of the written word. For ages, ecclesiastics maintained a monopoly of reading and writing. Then came movable type and the printing press of Gutenberg. Reading and writing became common heritage. The postal service followed, fostering a moderate exchange of thought between people. Ancient Greeks developed a crude method of heliograph for military signaling. Then flags by day and fires by night conveyed information over wide distances. Later, the system of signaling by semaphore devised by Claude Choppe during the French Revolution blazed the path leading to the electric telegraph of Morse. Scarcely more than a century ago came the first telegraph, an instantaneous means for communicating over great land distances, followed by the submarine cable for spanning the oceans. Bell, experimenting with a new form of telegraphy, came upon the telephone, and as a result business and social life were; immeasurably increased in tempo. Late in the 19th century, wireless telegraphy entered the communications field, first as a means of spinning threads between ships and shores, and robbing the sea of its sinister silence; later as a practical means of transoceanic communication. Inspired by the classical formulas of Maxwell in England, Hertz in Germany in the 1880s discovered electromagnetic waves, proving them akin to light waves but of vastly longer wavelengths and lower frequencies.

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High-School Robots Learn the “Three Rs” (Jul, 1955)

The “Thinker” device sounds like B.S.. They admit that it has to be “pumped” with answers. My guess is that it either it just spits out the next answer in it’s queue when a button is pressed (I doubt the mike is hooked up to anything). Or, more likely, it’s just a complete fake and there is someone controlling it. It sure as hell doesn’t have voice recognition in 1955.

Also, it seems to me that $150 or $200 in 1955 is a hell of a lot of money for a high-school science project.

High-School Robots Learn the “Three Rs”

By Jim Collison

AN ELECTRONIC THINKER—a completely mechanical robot — built by Robert Kotsmith, 16, and Michael Chmielewski, 17, high-school juniors at Foley, Minn., is passing exams of a factual nature that would stump any uneducated robot.

The machine, built during a period of 10 months at an estimated cost of only $120, understands and answers the human voice. The Thinker answers mathematical questions, gives data on current events and history, writes and even learns new facts it does not already know.

Even to persons well versed on scientific progress, this project seems astounding. Foley science instructor Alfred A. Lease says this of his students: “Their accomplishments would make some college graduates look on with envy.”

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Electronic Machine Speeds Fliqht Information to Area Offices (May, 1955)

Given all the stories I’ve been reading at the Consumerist, it wouldn’t surprise me if the airlines still used these things.

Electronic Machine Speeds Fliqht Information to Area Offices

American Airlines has turned to an electronic machine to provide fast, accurate flight information to all its offices in the New York area. The machine, the Magne-tronic Reservisor, is already in use, handling reservations automatically. In its new utilization, information on all flights, incoming and outgoing, is fed into the whirling drum that is the machine’s “memory,”
and is then available at any airline office in the area. To obtain the information, an agent has only to push a simple combination of buttons on the branch-office keyboard. The answer is returned in flashing lights. Immediately available flight information allows the agent to answer queries at once instead of checking bulletin-board postings.

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Electricity Grades Student Papers (Jan, 1936)

Ahh, the birth of the hanging chad.

Electricity Grades Student Papers
IMPERSONAL electricity, which never grows tired or irritated by wrong answers, will be used in several schools this winter to correct examination papers. By means of a small device invented by Joseph Sveda and Herbert Lehmann, two New Jersey high school teachers, the papers will be electrically corrected at the rate of 25 a minute.
On the examination paper, the student punches out disks corresponding to “yes” or “no,” and “true” or “false” in answer to the questions. The correct perforations set up an electrical contact when passing through the machine, and the number of contacts represents the student’s grade.

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ASCII Art – 1948 (Oct, 1948)

This would be a lot of fun without a text editor. One mistake and you have to start over.
More about ASCII Art on Wikipedia.

KEYBOARD ART
By Paul Hadley
WHILE purely entertaining, doodling with a typewriter gives vent to the imagination and originality of both the experienced and the hunt-and-peck typist. Fill-in pictures are the easiest to “draw” with a typewriter. An example is shown in the flower which is made with the letter X alone. Such pictures, whether a flower or a portrait, are made by using an outline of the subject as a typing guide. This is done by tracing the outline lightly on paper and backing it with carbon paper to type the picture. Caricature or cartoon “drawing” combines letters with symbols as shown in the examples below. Here, half-spacing of the typewriter is required, as in the case of the owl’s beak and feet. The log cabin shows what can be done in drawing a picture in perspective.

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Big City Sign (Oct, 1939)

Very cool article from 1939 about the first programmable electronic sign in Times Square (think the grandfather of the Jumbotron). Every single change of a light, and there are 27,000 of them, is punched as a row on a 160 column roll of paper that gets fed through the vast machine.

Oh, and in response to the question posed here:

“The paper is wide enough for 160 perforated holes across. One hundred holes to represent all the lights in each zone. Thirty to represent the zones in all the sectors. And nine to represent the sectors.”

“But that’s only 139 holes’” we remark brightly.

“Well, there are nine holes to erase the sectors.”

“That’s 148.”

“And nine for flashing the sectors on and off.”

“That’s 157.”

“And—” Mr. Latz scratched his head. “There’s three more for something else, but darned if I know what they are!”

The answers are:
158 – displays goatse
159 – displays Xeyes. Every platform needs Xeyes.
160 – reserved for pending MPAA DRM solution.

Big City Sign

“How does it work?” is the question most frequently heard, as New Yorkers and visitors gaze at the sign whose color and action make it one of Broadway’s most startling attractions.

27,000 light bulbs! 40 miles of wiring! 500,000 connections!

THESE figures are impressive, but an electric “spectacular” must depend on more than sheer size to attract attention in New York City’s Times Square, which has the most imposing collection of electric signs in the world. It must have action, color, and originality—and that’s just what the Wonder-sign, newest and brightest addition to the Great White Way’s signs, has.

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