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Tracking Down a Seminal Work on Computer Construction – in Russian


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At the beginning of the 1950s, there were essentially two basic works on computer construction:

1. Engineering Research Associates, Inc.: High-speed computing devices, Tomash Publishers, Los Angeles, San Francisco 1983, xlii, 451 pages (reprint from 1950), and

2. Rutishauser, Heinz; Speiser, Ambros Paul; Stiefel, Eduard: Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengeräte (elektronische Rechenmaschinen), Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 1951, 102 pages (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Cover of the basic work on computer construction

(Credit: ETH Library, Zurich)

The papers of the trio from Zurich first appeared in four installments in a journal in 1950:

  • Rutishauser, Heinz; Speiser, Ambros Paul; Stiefel, Eduard: Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengeräte (elektronische Rechenmaschinen), Zusammenfassender Bericht, in: Zeitschrift für angewandte Mathematik und Physik, volume 1, 1950, pages 277–297 (part 1).
  • Rutishauser, Heinz; Speiser, Ambros Paul; Stiefel, Eduard: Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengeräte (elektronische Rechenmaschinen), Zusammenfassender Bericht, in: Zeitschrift für angewandte Mathematik und Physik, volume 1, 1950, pages 339–362 (part 2).
  • Rutishauser, Heinz; Speiser, Ambros Paul; Stiefel, Eduard: Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengeräte (elektronische Rechenmaschinen), Zusammenfassender Bericht, in: Zeitschrift für angewandte Mathematik und Physik, volume 2, 1951, pages 1–25 (part 3).
  • Rutishauser, Heinz; Speiser, Ambros Paul; Stiefel, Eduard: Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengeräte (elektronische Rechenmaschinen), Zusammenfassender Bericht, in: Zeitschrift für angewandte Mathematik und Physik, volume 2, 1951, pages 63–92 (part 4).

For some time now, there have been references to a Russian translation of this book, but unfortunately without detailed bibliographic information. Nobody at ETH Zurich knew about it. Thanks to a hint from Ralf Bülow, it was possible to trace the translation.

Slava Gerovitch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, mentions such a translation in his paper 'Mathematical Machines' of the Cold War: Soviet Computing, American Cybernetics and Ideological Disputes in the Early 1950s (Social Studies of Science 31/2 (April 2001), pages 253-287):

"In 1952, the specialized journal Problems of Rocket Technology (Voprosy raketnoi tekhniki) published the Russian translation of a detailed Western review of recent advances in electronic digital computing; this publication served as a basic text in the first course on computer programming at Moscow State University." The note reads: "See Kh. Rutiskhauzer et al., 'Elektronnye tsifrovye schetnye mashiny s programmnym upravleniem', Voprosy raketnoi tekhniki, vyp. 2–5 (1952). This publication was a translation of Heinz von Rutishauser, Ambros Speiser and Eduard Stiefel, Programmgesteuerte digitale Rechengerate (elektronische Rechenmaschinen) (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1951)."

Upon request, Gerovitch, a U.S.-American science historian with Russian roots, provided me with the exact bibliographical data on October 17, 2020:

Рутисхаузер Γ., Шпайзер А., Штифель Э., Электронные цифровые счетные машины с программным управлением, сб: "Вопросы ракетной техники" (сокращенные переводы иностранной периодической литературы), М., вып. 2, 1952, 134-163; вып. 3, 132-151; вып. 4, 140-151; вып. 5, 161-174.

Gerovitch believes "the journal existed until the early 1970s; no information about it after that. The publisher was: Издательство иностранной литературы."

According to the Worldcat library catalog, this journal is only available in very few libraries (U.K., U.S.A., Canada).

Heinz Rutishauser, a forgotten pioneer

The following text is extracted from Herbert Bruderer, Milestones in Analog and Digital Computing, Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland, 3rd edition 2000, translated by John McMinn:

The early deceased Heinz Rutishauser (1918–1970) of the ETH Zurich is considered the most important Swiss pioneer from the early era of computer science (see box below). He went down in history as the founder of "automatic programming" and as one of the authoritative fathers of the Algol programming language.

Education

Up to now, little is known about the life of Heinz Rutishauser. The following information derives from a report of the Swiss School Board belonging to the University archives of the ETH Zurich (Sitzung no. 7 of December 20 1954, page 481): the Thurgau native studied mathematics at the ETH from 1936 to 1942, culminating with the degree "Fachlehrer der Mathematik" with distinction. From 1942 to 1945 he was an assistant to Walter Saxer for higher mathematics. He taught mathematics at the Landeserziehungsheim Glarisegg TG (1945/46) and the Kantonsschule in Trogen AR (1946/47). In 1947/48 he worked on the subject of his dissertation.

Residence in the USA (1949)

From 1948, Rutishauser was an assistant at the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the ETH Zurich (from 1953, an assistant professor). In 1949 he undertook a study visit to computer centers in the U.S.A. His doctoral dissertation, "Über Folgen und Scharen von analytischen Funktionen mehrerer Variablen sowie von analytischen Abbildungen," followed in 1950. In 1951, he completed further studies with the postdoctoral dissertation "Automatische Rechenplanfertigung" and became a lecturer at the ETH. In 1955, he was named Associate Professor for Applied Mathematics at the ETH.

Introduction to programming (1954)

The Swiss School Board minutes document that he held a course consisting of two-hour lectures entitled "Einführung in die Praxis des programmgesteuerten Rechnens" in the Department of Mathematics and Physics of the ETH in the summer of 1954 and in the winter semester 1955/56 a two-hour seminar "Programmgesteuertes Rechnen I (Anleitung zur Benützung einer elektronischen Rechenmaschine)". These were presumably the first programming courses in Switzerland. In 1960 he applied for a brief unpaid leave for "the completion of a book on automatic programming, with special emphasis on the automatic formal language Algol" (Swiss School Board minutes no. 3 of May 7 1960, page 269).


Reflections in praise of Heinz Rutishauser (Switzerland)

Friedrich Bauer (Munich) considered Heinz Rutishauser of the ETH Zurich the father of the compiler: "In 1951, Rutishauser wrote the famous paper "Automatische Rechenplanfertigung," marking the start of compiler construction and of programming languages" (see Friedrich Bauer: Between Zuse and Rutishauser – The early development of digital computing in Central Europe, in: Nicholas Constantine Metropolis; Jack Howlett; Gian-Carlo Rota (editors): A history of computing in the twentieth century, Academic Press, New York, London etc. 1980, page 506).

"In 1951, the Swiss mathematician Heinz Rutishauser, based on Zuse's idea of a plan generation device, showed how a universal computer itself can be utilized to write a program ("programming program," Andrei Ershov) " (see Friedrich Bauer: Informatik. Führer durch die Ausstellung, Deutsches Museum, Munich 2004, page 175).

For Heinz Zemanek in Vienna, Rutishauser was a pacesetter in the area of programming languages: "His postdoctoral dissertation [Automatische Rechenplanfertigung bei programmgesteuerten Rechenmaschinen] represents the beginning of systematic programming languages and the starting point for the Algol language."

Herman Goldstine (Princeton) wrote: "Around the same period the late Heinz Rutishauser of the ETH in Zurich was thinking quite systematically about automatic programming and about ways to express mathematical concepts in a reasonable way on a computer. He also conceived of a practical procedure for translating such expressions into machine language. Thus he probably invented the first compiler, and his is also the first problem-oriented language. [...]. Rutishauser's ideas apparently were ahead of their time, and neither his nor Böhm's work evoked much response until a few years later when they were taken up by the Munich group under Bauer and Samelson" (see Herman Heine Goldstine: The computer from Pascal to von Neumann, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1993, pages 337–338).


Acknowledgement

Without the support of Ralf Bülow and Slava Gerovitch, the Russian translation would not have been found.

References

1. Bruderer, Herbert: Meilensteine der Rechentechnik, De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin/Boston, 3. Auflage 2020, Band 1, 970 Seiten, 577 Abbildungen, 114 Tabellen, https://www.degruyter.com/view/title/567028?rskey=xoRERF&result=7

2. Bruderer, Herbert: Meilensteine der Rechentechnik, De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin/Boston, 3. Auflage 2020, Band 2, 1055 Seiten, 138 Abbildungen, 37 Tabellen, https://www.degruyter.com/view/title/567221?rskey=A8Y4Gb&result=4

3. Bruderer, Herbert, Milestones in Analog and Digital Computing, Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland. 3. Auflage 2000, 2 Bände, rund 2050 Seiten,  577 Abbildungen, 114 Tabellen, https://www.springer.com/de/book/9783030409739

4. Gerovitch, Slava: 'Mathematical Machines' of the Cold War: Soviet Computing, American Cybernetics and Ideological Disputes in the Early 1950s, in: Social Studies of Science 31/2 (April 2001), pages 253-287.

 

Herbert Bruderer is a retired lecturer in didactics of computer science at ETH Zurich. More recently, he has been an historian of technology. bruderer@retired.ethz.ch, herbert.bruderer@bluewin.


 

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