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Polymorphic Computing, Explained in Vintage Stop-Motion (1959)

What wooden boxes and stick figures have to do with predicting the future of the social web.

Though the world didn’t see its first polymorphic computer until 2007, the concept of “polymorphic computing” predates it by nearly half a century. In this lovely stop-motion animation from 1959, found on The Internet Archive and now in the public domain, John Salzer illustrates the principles of polymorphic computing, first outlined by technology pioneer Simon Ramo, and, in the process, presages subsequent landmarks in the evolution of technology, from parallel processing to peer-to-peer filesharing to cloud computing to the very architecture of the Internet — a striking case of two contemporary fixations, the social web and stop-motion animation, converging long before either had reached critical cultural mass.

This is distributed control, distributed memory, distributed arithmetics, distributed everything. And it makes sense. Because now more than one guy can be using the system at the same time.”

Also curious to note is how cluelessly reflective the film is of the fundamental biases of the era, what with its male-centricity (hey there, computing “guys”) and its analogies to the telephone as the base-level, universal standard for communication.

Published July 8, 2011




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