Thursday, 23 February 2012 01:23

Past meets the present at CSIRAC

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Today's new world of computer science met the old recently when senior executives from the CSIRO's ICT Centre paid a visit to the University of Melbourne to see CSIRAC, Australia's first and the world's fourth programmable electronic digital computer, built in 1949 by a CSIRO team led by Dr Trevor Pearcey, after whom the Pearcey Foundation was named.


'I first saw CSIRAC when I was in Melbourne on holiday recently,' said ICT Centre Director, Dr Ian Oppermann. 'I was truly inspired by its complexity and power and hoped it would similarly move my colleagues so I wrote an excursion to the museum into our meeting schedule.'

The CSIRO team was guided through a tour of CSIRAC by Dr Peter Thorne, who worked on CSIRAC when an undergraduate and decades later, while head of computer science at the University of Melbourne, initiated and led the project to document the history of the computer and ensure its place in Australia's history.

Dr Thorne, who is also a member of the national committee of the Pearcey Foundation, reminded the visitors that the CSIR MK1/CSIRAC was the only intact survivor of the machines which launched the information age.

In another connection to the past, Museum Victoria CEO, Dr Patrick Greene, said his own connection with early computer history was brought about when he lived in a property originally owned by Charles Babbage, who was later involved in the creation of the replica of the first stored program machine, the Manchester Baby.

Museum Victoria curator, David Demant, took the visitors behind the scenes to the CSIRAC collection in the museum store where the detailed archive of the computer's history is preserved, including original hardware schematics and program tapes.

The ICT Centre's chief scientist, Dr Branko Celler, said CSIRAC was a 'beautifully restored technology artefact of great historical significance,' and 'one of Australia's great early achievements in computing.'

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