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Programming and Planning

Programming and Planning,10.1109/MAHC.2011.11,IEEE Annals of The History of Computing,David Alan Grier

Programming and Planning  
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Some 15 years ago, I argued in the Annals that the word program entered the vocabulary of computer developers from the ENIAC project. 1 Within the ENIAC, the term referred to the control signal that synchronized and directed the actions of the machine’s individual units. ‘‘It is convenient in discussing the ENIAC to distinguish between the numerical circuits (which operate on signals representing numbers) and the programming circuits (which recognize when and how a unit is to operate and which then stimulate the numerical circuits to operate),’’ wrote Adele and Hermann Goldstine in their initial published paper on the ENIAC. 2 Eight years would pass before the field would shift the usage of the word program away from the electronic circuits that controlled the machine toward the symbolic instructions that describe a set of operations to be set in motion by those circuits. In the intervening time, engineers more commonly used the word planning to describe the process of preparing a list of instructions for a computer. Konrad Zuse called his programming language PlanKalcul. 3 The Mathematical Tables Project, which operated on the cusp of the electronic computing era, was governed by a planning committee. 4,5 The initial articles on programming techniques by John von Neumann and Herman Goldstine were called ‘‘Planning and Coding Problems for an Electronic Computer.’’ 6–8 The term plan derived from the production engineering field, a discipline that developed in the 1920s in England in response to the production demands of World War I. The story of its usage shows how the concept of programming started to develop and suggests, as authors such as Michael Mahoney have argued, that programming owes much to production engineering and the fields that derived from it, notably systems engineering. 9 British Planning and Progressing In the United Kingdom, production engineers became an identifiable group in 1921 with the Institution for Production Engineering. ‘‘This brought together a small body of engineers whose aim it was to discuss the many complex problems which then constantly arose,’’ explained the official history, ‘‘and to devise a means of exchanging ideas on production problems generally.’’ 10 The organization was based in London, not in the industrial Midlands. Most of its early discussions dealt with issues of metal working, in much the same way as the first papers of American Frederick Winslow Taylor’s dealt with the task of efficiently cutting metal. 11,12 However, the English literature, like its American counterpart, quickly focused its attention on the management of work. An early report, for example, considered the Ford method of mass production and matched attention to problems of material management with praise for the social implications of the Ford production strategy. The Ford ‘‘factories have become the Mecca of scientists and industrialists all over the world,’’ it reported, ‘‘and have created a permanent imprint on the social system by the application of its industrial policies.’’ 13 Initially, the Institution for Production Engineering viewed production planning as an engineering task that had to balance technical and economic goals. A 1931 conference defined planning to be the act of ‘‘devising and controlling processes of production in such a way that the personnel and facilities of the plant, physical and financial, will be utilized to the best advantage consonant with the degree of accuracy required.’’ 14 Contained within the subject of planning were the tasks of production control and progressing. Production control was the actual operation of the factory. It involved the ‘‘collection of data, the transmission of orders, and the progressing of these by individuals appointed for the purpose by the production manager, to see that same are completed by their due dates and in balanced quantities.’’ Progressing, which was known as sequencing in the US, was the task of getting the right activities done in the right order. 14
Journal: IEEE Annals of The History of Computing - ANNALS , vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 86-88, 2011
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