October 5, 2007
Gary Oster, a lab system analyst in the Dept. of Computer Science, stands beside a display of old computing equipment on view during Homecoming.
Photo by Liam Richards
By Kirk Sibbald
Few things have altered the world in 50 years the way computers have, and the University is encouraging people to reflect on these changes as the campus celebrates a half-century of computing this fall.
A number of events and displays are being organized for October and November, some of which will run in conjunction with the University’s annual Technology Week from Nov. 5 to 9, said Rick Bunt, associate vice-president of Information and Communications Technology.
The University’s Computer Museum will be erecting displays of significant computing artifacts across campus and some vintage equipment will be set up in the Snelgrove Art Gallery from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9. Organizers of these events also hope to bring some local computing pioneers and retired faculty members back to the U of S to speak on the “old days” of computing.
Although only 50 years have passed since the first computer was purchased by the University, significant changes have occurred. While the University’s first computers, which filled an entire room, were tailored to complete specific scientific calculations, today’s are used for everything from word processing, keeping in touch with acquaintances and shopping, Bunt said. So it is easy to take this pervasive technology for granted, and organizers of the anniversary events hope people will step back and realize how far the technology has come in a mere half century.
The increasing prevalence of computing in everyday life has also had an immeasurable effect the University’s academic environment, said Bunt. Professors use PowerPoint and web-based applications in their lectures, library databases are easily accessed online, and nearly every student begins their post-secondary education equipped with a laptop.
“Now it’s hard to imagine an activity or business process or instruction activity that doesn’t have computing in it somewhere,” said Bunt. “It’s something as essential to our university life as water and electricity, and that’s all happened in a span of 50 years. That’s pretty profound.”
As for what computing holds for society in over the next 50 years, Bunt admits the sky’s the limit. He did, however, offer some modest predictions.
“Computers won’t exist as separate objects; they’ll just be everywhere. They’ll be embedded in the objects that surround us, as opposed to having to carry your device with you or go to your device. They’ll be in our doors, so that when we approach they’ll have the background material we need for a meeting ready on our screen, when we walk in the office. They’ll be invisible.”
Although the University’s first computer, a Royal McBee LGP 30, no longer exists, displays during the anniversary celebrations will include such things as a MITS Altair 8800, widely celebrated as the world’s first personal computer and purchased by the College of Engineering in 1975. Bunt is also working on creating historical timeline displays highlighting some of the most significant computing events in the University’s history.
The 50th anniversary of computing at the U of S will be officially recognized on Nov. 9, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery. There will be an official cake cutting at 11:30 a.m., and the morning will also feature a number of games and prizes.