Radar’s predictive sense is drawn from the ‘wisdom of the alpha geeks in our midst‘ as we seek to collectively surface the emerging trends of the technology sector. However, from time to time, it’s appropriate to look back at the milestones that have shaped the digital industries which we all inhabit.
One of these milestones falls tommorow in the Northern city of Manchester, Great Britain, as the city honours the sixtieth anniversary of the Small-Scale Experimental Machine, the world’s first stored-program computer, affectionately known as ‘Baby’. Baby executed its first program on 21st June 1948, as part of an experiment utilising four cathode-ray tubes (the Williams-Kiilburn tube) as storage devices, incidentally also enabling random access to this stored memory. The program itself, was was designed to find the highest factor of 218, taking almost an hour and 3.5m operations to establish a solution.
A replica of Baby was revealed in 1998, celebrating it’s fiftieth anniversary, and is located at Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry, coincidentally the venue for this week’s b.TWEEN conference of the UK’s creative and digital industries.
The implications of Baby’s inception were profound, not only enabling the storage of data, but also program code and the means to process it electronically; all the characteristics of what we take for granted as a computational machine. The Department of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, where Baby was born, was subsequently party to many other firsts, including the floating point machine, transistor-based computers and virtual memory. Along with the University of Bradford (my home town!), forty miles east over the Pennine Mountains, these universities were amongst the first to teach computer science in the UK.
It’s no coincidence that this region of the UK was at the forefront of technology – during the Victorian era, the cities of Northern England were the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Industrial Revolution. Manchester has long been a global influencer culturally, economically and technologically.
Places such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield are undergoing a modern renaissance with an explosion of grassroots geekery, BarCamps, coworking communties, OpenCoffee meetups, tech conferences, even a Google office and the emergence of regional venture capitalists and startup culture. These may be the weak signals of an emerging technology hub – can this region produce another Baby?
(Coincidentally, George Dyson’s TED 2003 talk on the Birth Of The Computer was just posted a few days ago).