Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower. Alan Kay
John Clinton Loehlin (1926–2020) was an American intelligence researcher, behavior geneticist, computer scientist, and psychologist. One of his groundbreaking achievements is the first attempt to endow a computer with emotion.
In the early 1960s, Loehlin, a young professor at the University of Nebraska, became interested in computer models of personality. The idea originated in a paper presented by Loehlin at a conference on computer simulation and personality theory held at Princeton University, although the basic purposes and ideas in the computer simulation of psychological processes and behavior had been well defined by this time.
Initially, Loehlin basically created a small world of simulated automatons (termed Aldous after the author Aldous Huxley) and had them interact with one another to better understand what he had created. He defined each to have a “personality” or probabilistic way of reacting to threats–the “experiments” he ran with these different simulated creatures. Aldous was originally written on a Burroughs 205 Datatron computer entirely in assembly language. Burroughs 205 (see its Handbook) was a vacuum tube computer that cost a few hundred thousand dollars (equivalent to a few million today) and occupied an entire room.
Generally, Aldous was presented with a situation with certain characteristics and he responded based on some knowledge that had been previously acquired. Depending on the nature of the situation, Aldous may or may not receive further consequences. The Situation (external to Aldous) was defined with seven numbers. The first three were perceptual characteristics (0–9 for each of the three dimensions, thus there were 1000 possible perceptual situations). The next four numbers correspond to affective characteristics of the situation, based on Murray’s (1938) theory of situational “presses.” The four presses were defined as the relative probability of each situation to cause satisfaction, frustration, pain, and its power to do so. Thus there can be many combinations of stimulus perceptual characteristics.
Loehlin spoke of this whole enterprise as an attempt to develop a “model of personality”, and planned to improve upon Aldous’s (a) limited ability to plan based on more than one situation, (b) his rather limited perceptual system and memory, and (c) the use of too many constant values.
Biography of John Loehlin
John Clinton Loehlin was born in Ferozepur, India, on 13 January 1926, the son of Presbyterian missionary parents, Clinton Herbert Loehlin (1897-1987) and Eunice (Cleland) Loehlin (1899-1983). John had four sisters, and a brother, James Herbert.
John grew up mainly in the Punjab region of northern India and attended the Woodstock School, an international coeducational residential facility in Landour, graduating in 1942. He moved to the USA to go to college, first in Ohio and later at Harvard, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in English, cum laude, in 1947. In 1947-49 worked in the research department of McCann-Erickson, an advertising firm in Cleveland, then started his research and teaching assistantships, at the Psychology Department of University of California (Berkeley). A member of the United States Naval Reserve, he was called up for active duty during the Korean War, interrupting his graduate studies. He served in the Pacific from 1951-53, as a lieutenant of the US Navy. John returned to complete his Ph.D. in Psychology at Berkeley in 1957, with a dissertation on time perception.
Loehlin began teaching at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 1957, where he met Marjorie Leafdale (1921-2021), who taught in the English Department. They married on 2 January 1962, and had two children, Jennifer Ann and James Norris.
In 1964 Loehlins moved to Austin for a visiting year at the University of Texas. That post turned into a permanent position, a joint appointment in Psychology and Computer Science. John Loehlin taught at Austin from 1964 to 1992, apart from a visiting semester at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado and a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto. He chaired the Psychology Department from 1979-83. He also served as president of the Behavior Genetics Association and the Society for Multivariate Experimental Psychology. John received the Dobzhansky Award from the former in 1991, and a Festschrift was held in his honor at the 2011 BGA meetings. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Charter Fellow of the American Psychological Society.
As Professor Emeritus of Psychology from 1992 until his death, he continued to be active in research and publication. His research was mainly on the interaction of genes and environment, especially on personality development. He also worked on the computer analysis of complex scientific data. He published seven scholarly books, some in multiple editions, and dozens of articles. He also enjoyed writing poetry, and brought out two volumes of verse; as a young man, he had poems published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Harper’s, and The New Yorker.
John Clinton Loehlin died on 9 August 2020 (aged 94), at his home in Austin, Texas.
Shakey, the first mobile robot with the ability to perceive and reason about its surroundings, was created in the late 1960s at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) by a group of engineers, managed by Charles Rosen (1917-2002), as the project was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In November 1963, Charles Rosen, a Canadian-American engineer, who had founded the Machine Learning Group at SRI, dreamed up the world’s first mobile automaton. In the next year, Rosen proposed building a robot that could think for itself, but his idea was met with skepticism by many in the nascent AI field. In the same year, Rosen applied for funding from DARPA, which grants funds for the development of emerging technologies. It took Rosen two years to get the funding (DARPA granted the researchers $750000 – more than $5 million in today’s money), and it took six more years, until 1972, before engineers at SRI’s AI Center finished building Shakey.
Shakey was a little less than two meters tall and had three sections. At the bottom was a wheeled platform (two stepping motors, one connected to each of the side-mounted drive wheels) that gave the robot its mobility, and collision detection sensors. Atop that were what looked like three slide-in units in a rack. Those held the robot’s camera-control unit and the onboard logic. Stacked on the uppermost unit was a range finder, a TV camera, and a radio antenna protruding from the top.
A radio link connected Shakey to a computer, which could process the incoming data, and send commands to the circuits that controlled the robot’s motors. Initially, an SDS (Scientific Data Systems) 940 computer was used. Around 1969, a more powerful DEC PDP-10 replaced the SDS 940. The PDP-10 used a large magnetic drum memory (that had the size of a refrigerator, holding some 1 megabyte) for swapping time-shared jobs in and out of working core memory.
Shakey used the Lisp programming language, as well as FORTRAN, and responded to simple English-language commands. A command to roll 2.1 feet would look like this:
SHAKEY = (ROLL 2.1)
Other commands included TILT and PAN, but there were also GOTO statements (which instead of jumping to a new position in the code) would actually cause the Shakey to go to a new position in the real world.
SHAKEY = (GOTO D4)
Which is more importantly, Shakey itself would first plan out the route it was going to take, even plotting a course around obstacles. And it could perform other useful tasks, like moving boxes.
SHAKEY = (PUSH BOX1 = (14.1, 22.7))
Shakey was presented in an extensive article in Life Magazine on 20 Nov 1970 (see the image below). A part of the article is as follows: It looked at first glance like a Good Humor wagon sadly in need of a spring paint job. But instead of a tinkly little bell on top of its box-shaped body there was this big mechanical whangdoodle that came rearing up, full of lenses and cables, like a junk sculpture gargoyle.
“Meet Shaky,” said the young scientist who was showing me through the Stanford Research Institute. “The first electronic person.”
I looked for a twinkle in the scientist’s eye. There wasn’t any. Sober as an equation, he sat down at an input terminal and typed out a terse instruction which was fed into Shaky’s “brain”, a computer set up in a nearby room: PUSH THE BLOCK OFF THE PLATFORM.
Something inside Shaky began to hum. A large glass prism shaped like a thick slice of pie and set in the middle of what passed for his face spun faster and faster till it dissolved into a glare then his superstructure made a slow 3600 turn and his face leaned forward and seemed to be staring at the floor. As the hum rose to a whir, Shaky rolled slowly out of the room, rotated his superstructure again and turned left down the corridor at about four miles an hour, still staring at the floor.
“Guides himself by watching the baseboards,” the scientist explained as he hurried to keep up. At every open door Shaky stopped, turned his head, inspected the room, turned away and idled on to the next open door. In the fourth room he saw what he was looking for: a platform one foot high and eight feet long with a large wooden block sitting on it. He went in, then stopped short in the middle of the room and stared for about five seconds at the platform. I stared at it too.
“He’ll never make it.” I found myself thinking “His wheels are too small. “All at once I got goose-flesh. “Shaky,” I realized, ”is thinking the same thing I am thinking!”
Shaky was also thinking faster. He rotated his head slowly till his eye came to rest on a wide shallow ramp that was lying on the floor on the other side of the room. Whirring brisky, he crossed to the ramp, semi-circled it and then pushed it straight across the floor till the high end of the ramp hit the platform. Rolling back a few feet, he cased the situation again and discovered that only one corner of the ramp was touching the platform. Rolling quickly to the far side of the ramp, he nudged it till the gap closed. Then he swung around, charged up the slope, located the block and gently pushed it off the platform.
Compared to the glamorous electronic elves who trundle across television screens, Shaky may not seem like much. No death-ray eyes, no secret transistorized lust for nubile lab technicians. But in fact he is a historic achievement. The task I saw him perform would tax the talents of a lively 4-year-old child, and the men who over the last two years have headed up the Shaky project—Charles Rosen, Nils Nilsson and Bert Raphael—say he is capable of far more sophisticated routines. Armed with the right devices and programmed in advance with basic instructions, Shaky could travel about the moon for months at a time and, without a single beep of direction from the earth, could gather rocks, drill Cores, make surveys and photographs and even decide to lay plank bridges over crevices he had made up his mind to cross.
The center of all this intricate activity is Shaky’s “brain,” a remarkably programmed computer with a capacity more than 1 million “bits” of information. In defiance of the soothing conventional view that the computer is just a glorified abacus, that cannot possibly challenge the human monopoly of reason. Shaky’s brain demonstrates that machines can think. Variously defined, thinking includes processes as “exercising the powers of judgment” and “reflecting for the purpose of reaching a conclusion.” In some of these respects—among them powers of recall and mathematical agility–Shaky’s brain can think better than the human mind. Marvin Minsky of MIT’s Project Mac, a 42-year-old polymath who has made major contributions to Artificial Intelligence, recently told me with quiet certitude, “In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being. I mean a machine that will be able to read Shakespeare, grease a car, play office politics, tell a joke, have a fight. At that point, the machine will begin to educate itself with fantastic speed. In a few months it will be at genius level and a few months after that its powers will be incalculable.”
I had to smile at my instant credulity—the nervous sort of smile that comes when you realize you’ve been taken in by a clever piece of science fiction. When I checked Minsky’s prophecy with other people working on Artificial Intelligence, however, many of them said that Minsky’s timetable might be somewhat wishful—”give us 15 years,” was a common remark—but all agreed that there would be such a machine and that it could precipitate the third Industrial Revolution, wipe out war and poverty and roll up centuries of growth in science, education and the arts. At the same time a number of computer scientists fear that the godsend may become a Golem. “Man’s limited mind,” says Minsky, “may not be able to control such immense mentalities.”
Intelligence in machines has developed with surprising speed. It was only 33 years ago that a mathematician named Ronald Turing proved that a computer, like a brain, can process any kind of information—words as well as numbers, ideas as easily as facts; and now there is Shaky, with an inner core resembling the central nervous system of human beings. He is made up of five major systems of circuitry that correspond quite closely to how human faculties—sensation, reason, language, memory, ego—and these faculties cooperate harmoniously to produce something that actually does behave very much like a rudimentary person.
Shaky’s memory faculty, constructed after a model developed at MIT takes input from Shaky’s video eye, optical range finder, telemetering equipment and touch-sensitive antennae; taste and hearing are the only senses Shaky so far doesn’t have. This input is then routed through a “mental process” that recognizes patterns and tells Shaky what he is seeing. A dot-by-dot impression of the video input, much like the image on a TV screen, is constructed in Shaky’s brain according to the laws of analytical geometry. Dark areas are separated from light areas, and if two of these contrasting areas happen to meet along a sharp enough line, the line is recognized as an edge. With a few edges for clues, Shaky can usually guess what he’s looking at (just as people can) without bothering to fill in all the features on the hidden side of the object. In fact, the art of recognizing patterns is now so far advanced that merely by adding a few equations Shaky’s creators could teach him to recognize a familiar human face every time he sees it.
Once it is identified, what Shaky sees is passed on to be processed by the rational faculty—the cluster of circuits that actually does his thinking. The forerunners of Shaky’s rational faculty include a checker-playing computer program that can beat all but a few of the world’s best players, and Mac Hack, a chess-playing program that can already outplay some gifted amateurs and in four or five years will probably master the masters. Like these programs, Shaky thinks in mathematical formulas that tell him what’s going on in each of his faculties and in as much of the world as he can sense. For instance, when the space between the wall and the desk is too small to ease through, Shaky is smart enough to know it and to work out another way to get where he is going.
Shaky is not limited to thinking in strictly logical forms. He is also learning to think by analogy—that is, to make himself at home in a new situation, much the way human beings do, by finding in it something that resembles a situation he already knows, and on the basis of this resemblance to make, and carry out decisions. For example, knowing how to roll up a ramp onto a platform, a slightly more advanced Shaky equipped with legs instead of wheels and given a similar problem could very quickly figure out how to use steps in order to reach the platform.
But as Shaky grows and his decisions become more complicated, more like decisions in real life, he will need a way of thinking that is more flexible than either logic or analogy. He will need a way to do the sort of ingenious, practical “soft thinking” that can stop gaps, chop knots, make the best of bad situations and even, when time is short, solve a problem by making a shrewd guess.
The route toward “soft thinking” has been charted by the founding fathers of Artificial Intelligence, Allen Newell and Herbert Simon of Carnegie-Mellon University. Before Newell and Simon, computers solved (or failed to solve) non-mathematical problems by a hopelessly tedious process of trial and error. “It was like looking up a name in a big-city telephone book that nobody has bothered to arrange in alphabetical order.” says one computer scientist. Newell and Simon figured out a simple scheme -modeled, says Minsky, on “the way Herb Simon’s mind works.” Using the Newell-Simon method, a computer does not immediately search for answers, but is programmed to sort through general categories first, trying to locate the one where the problem and solution would most likely fit. When the correct category is found, the computer then works within it, but does not rummage endlessly for an absolutely perfect solution, which often does not exist. Instead, it accepts (as people do) a good solution, which for most non-numerical problems is good enough. Using this type of programming, an MIT professor wrote into a computer the criteria a certain banker used to pick stocks for his trust accounts. In a test, the program picked the same stock the banker did in 21 of 25 cases. In the other four cases the stocks the program picked were so much like the ones the banker picked that he said they would have suited the portfolio just as well.
Shaky can understand about 100 words of written English, translate these words into a simple verbal code and then translate the code into the mathematical formulas in which his actual thinking is done. For Shaky, as for most computer systems, natural language is still a considerable barrier. There are literally hundreds of “machine languages” and “program languages” in current use, and computers manipulate them handily, but when it comes to ordinary language they’re still in nursery school. They are not very good at translation, for instance, and no program so far created can cope with a large vocabulary, much less converse with ease on a broad range of subjects. To do this, Shaky and his kind must get better at Working with symbols and ambiguities (the dog in the window had hair but it fell out). It would also be useful if they learned to follow spoken English and talk hack, but so far the machines have a hard time telling words from noise.
Language has a lot to do with learning, and Shaky’s ability to acquire knowledge is limited by his vocabulary. He can learn a fact when he is told a fact, he can learn by solving problems, he can learn from exploration and discovery. But up to now neither Shaky nor any other computer program can browse through a book or watch a TV program and grow as he goes, as a human being does. This fall, Minsky and a colleague named Seymour Papert opened a two-year crash attack on the learning problem by trying to teach a computer to understand nursery rhymes “It takes a page of instructions,” says Papert, “to tell the machine that when Mary had a little lamb she didn’t have it for lunch.”
Shaky’s ego, or executive faculty, monitors the other faculties and makes sure they work together. It starts them, stops them, assigns and erases problems; and when a course of action has been worked out by the rational faculty, the ego sends instructions to any or all of Shaky’s six small on-board motors—and away he goes. All these separate systems merge smoothly in a totality more intricate than many forms of sentient life and they work together with wonderful agility and resourcefulness. When, for example, it turns out that the platform isn’t there because somebody has moved it, Shaky spins his superstructure, finds the platform again and keeps pushing the ramp till he gets it where he wants it—and if you happen to be the somebody who has been moving the platform, says one SRI scientist, “you get a strange prickling at the back of your neck as you realize that you are being hunted by an intelligent machine.”
With very little change in program and equipment, Shaky now could do work in a number of limited environments; warehouses, libraries, assembly lines. To operate successfully in more loosely structured scenes, he will need far more extensive, more nearly human abilities to remember and to think. His memory, which supplies the rest of his system with a massive and continuous flow of essential information, is already large, but at the next step progress it will probably become monstrous. Big memories are essential to complex intelligence. The largest standard computer now on the market can store about 36 million “bits” of information in a six-foot cube, and a computer already planned will be able to store more than a trillion “bits” (one estimate of the capacity of a human brain) in the same space.
Size and efficiency of hardware are less important, though, than sophistication in programming. In a dozen universities, psychologists are trying to create computers with well-defined humanoid personalities, Aldous, developed at the University of Texas by a psychologist named John Loehlin, is the first attempt to endow a computer with emotion. Aldous is programmed with three emotions and three responses, which he signals. Love makes him signal approach, fear makes him signal withdrawal, anger makes him signal attack. By varying the intensity and probability of these three responses, the personality of Aldous can be drastically changed. In addition, two or more different Aldouses can be programmed into a computer and made to interact. They go through rituals of getting acquainted, making friends, having fights.
Even more peculiarly human is the program created by Stanford psychoanalyst Kenneth M. Colby. Colby has developed a Freudian complex in his computer by setting up conflicts between beliefs (I must love Father, I hate Father). He has also created a computer psychiatrist and when he lets the two programs interact, the “patient’ resolves its conflicts just as a human being does, by forgetting about them, lying about them or talking truthfully about them with the “psychiatrist.” Such a large store of possible reactions has been programmed into the computer and there are many possible sequences of question and answer-that Colby can never be exactly sure what the “patient” will decide to do.
Colby is currently attempting to broaden the range of emotional reactions his computer can experience. “But so far,” one of his assistants says, “we have not achieved computer orgasm.”
Knowledge that comes out of these experiments in “sophistication” is helping to lead toward the ultimate sophistication—the autonomous computer that will be able to write its own programs and then use them in an approximation of the independent, imaginative way a human being dreams up projects and carries them out. Such a machine is now being developed at Stanford by Joshua Lederberg (the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist) and Edward Feigenbaum. In using a computer to solve a series of problems in chemistry. Lederberg and Feigenbaum realized their progress was being held back by the long, tedious job of programming their computer for each new problem. That started me wondering.” says Lederberg. “Couldn’t we save ourselves work by teaching the computer how we write these programs, and then let it program itself.”
Basically, a computer program is nothing more than a set of instructions (or rules of procedure) applicable to a particular problem at hand. A computer can tell you that 1 + 1 = 2—not because it has that fact stored away and then finds it, but because it has been programmed with the rules for simple addition. Lederberg decided you could give a computer some general rules for programming; and now, based on his initial success in teaching a computer to write programs in chemistry, he is convinced that computers can do this in any field—that they will be able in the reasonably near future to write programs that write programs that write programs…
Oliver Evans (1755–1819) was an American inventor, engineer, and businessman, a pioneer in the field of automation, who has been called the first great American inventor the Watt of America. Among his long series of accomplishments was designing and building the first fully automated industrial process in the late 1780s, a flour mill in Newport, Delaware.
In 1782, Oliver and two of his elder brothers, John (1846-1798) and Theophilus (1753-1809) purchased part of their father’s farm in Red Clay Creek, Delaware, to build a grain mill, as Oliver was put in charge of overseeing its construction. When the mill opened in September 1785, it was of a conventional design, but over the next five years, Oliver began to experiment with inventions to reduce the reliance upon labor for milling.
Evans’s first innovation was a bucket elevator to facilitate moving wheat from the bottom to the top of the mill to begin the process. Chains of buckets to raise water was an old Roman technology, used in various processes since antiquity. Evans had seen diagrams of their use for marine applications and realized with some modification they could be used to raise grain, so devised a series of bucket elevators around a mill to move grain and flour from one process to the next.
Another labor-intensive task was that of spreading meal, which came out of the grinding process warm and moist, needing cooling and drying before it could be sifted and packed. Traditionally the task was done by manually shoveling meals across large floors. For this purpose, Evans developed the hopper boy, a device that gathered meal from a bucket elevator and spread it evenly over the drying floor, as a mechanical rake would revolve around the floorspace. This would even out newly deposited meals for cooling and drying, while a gentle incline in the design of the rake blades would slowly move the flour towards central chutes, from which the material would be sifted.
At this time the U.S. Patent Office had not been organized yet, and several States exercised the privilege of granting exclusive rights to the use of the invention within their own boundaries. In 1786, Evans applied to the Legislature of Pennsylvania for a right to use his improvements in machinery for making flour, and also to use his steam wagons on the roads of the State. The following year the Legislature granted him only flour mil patent, but, on 21 May 1787, the Legislature of Maryland granted both rights for fourteen years. A similar patent was granted in 1789 by New Hampshire. In 1790, when the U.S. Patent Office was organized, Evans relinquished his State rights, and on 18 December 1790, a U.S. patent Number 3X was granted for his “method of manufacturing flour and meal.” This is said to be one of the three patents granted that year.
Evans had a rather abrasive personality and little tolerance for those who did not see the originality and importance of his inventions. This made it difficult for him to obtain financial backing, forcing him to depend on patent royalties.
Biography of Oliver Evans
Oliver Evans was born in Newport, Delaware on 13 September 1755. He was the fifth son of Charles (a Welsh-American) and Annika (Ann) Evans (nee Stalcop), a Swedish-American. Charles (1724-1799) and Ann (1729-1799) married in 1745 and had 12 children—8 boys and 4 girls. Charles Evans was a shoemaker by trade, though he purchased a large farm to the north of Newport on the Red Clay Creek and moved his family there when Oliver was still in his infancy.
Oliver was apprenticed to a wheelwright, or wagon maker, at the age of 15, and then he worked in several other mechanical trades. He was a thoughtful, studious boy, who devoured eagerly the few books to which he had access, even by the light of a fire of shavings, when denied a candle by his parsimonious masters.
The American Revolutionary War began when Oliver was 19. He enlisted in a Delaware militia company but saw no active service during the war.
In 1772, when only seventeen years old, Oliver began to contrive some method of propelling land carriages by other means than animal power and thought of a variety of devices, such as using the force of the wind and treadles worked by men. Soon into his hands fell a book describing the old atmospheric steam engine of Newcomen, and he was at once struck with the fact that steam was only used to produce a vacuum, while to him it seemed clear that the elastic power of the steam, if applied directly to moving the piston, would be far more efficient. Evans soon satisfied himself that he could make steam wagons, but could convince no one else of this possibility. In 1777 he completed a successful machine for making the wire teeth of wool cards, and then invented, but did not build, a machine for making and sticking the teeth in the leather backs.
In the early 1780s, Evans also began experimenting with steam power and its potential for commercial application. His early ideas culminated in a Delaware state patent application in 1783 for a steam-powered wagon, but it was denied as Evans had yet to produce a working model. That same year, aged 27, Evans married Sarah Tomlinson (1763-1816), daughter of John Tomlinson, a local farmer, in Old Swedes’ Episcopal Church in Wilmington. The couple will have three sons and four daughters.
In 1805 Evans designed a refrigeration machine that ran on vapor, although he never built one. Later his design was modified by Jacob Perkins, who obtained the first patent for a refrigerating machine in 1834.
The device for which Evans is best known today is his Oruktor Amphibolos (Amphibious Digger), built on commission from the Philadelphia Board of Health (Evans lived in Philadelphia since 1792). The Board was concerned with the problem of dredging and cleaning the city’s dockyards, and in 1805 Evans convinced them to contract with him for a steam-powered dredge. Evans built it, but Oruktor Amphibolos was never a success as a dredge, and after a few years of sitting at the dock was sold for parts.
In 1811, Evans founded the Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company, which in addition to engines made other heavy machinery and castings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The location of the factory in the Mississippi watershed was important in the development of high-pressure steam engines for use in riverboats.
In 1817 Evans compiled a list of all his inventions (some 80 in total). Some of his unfinished ideas that are known include a scheme for gas lighting, a means for raising sunken ships, a machine gun, a self-oiling shaft bearing, various types of gearshift for steam carriages, a dough-kneading machine, and a perpetual baking oven.
In 1816 Evans’ wife Sarah died, and he remarried two years later in April 1818 to Hetty Ward, who was many years his junior and the daughter of the New York innkeeper. In March 1819 Evans developed an inflammation of the lungs, and on 11 April, news reached him in New York that his shop Mars Works in Philadelphia had burned down. This bad news appears to have brought on a fatal attack of apoplexy, and he died on 15 April 1819 and was buried at Zion Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
Therefore, as I will tell, the advent of the computer, not as a computer but as a drawing machine, was for me a major event in my life. That’s why I was motivated to participate in the birth of computer graphics, because for me computer graphics was a way of extending my hand, extending it and being able to draw things which my hand by itself, and the hands of nobody else before, would not have been able to represent. Benoit Mandelbrot
Ben Laposky (1914–2000) was an American mathematician, artist, and draftsman from Cherokee, Iowa, who has been credited as the pioneer of electronic art, making the first computer graphics.
After his service at the US Army until the middle of 1944, Laposky returned wounded to his original work in Cherokee, but was no longer able to climb ladders as is required by a sign painter, so he focused on lettering smaller cards and draftsman. He established a sign shop, took extension courses in elementary drafting from the University of Chicago, and dabbled in art in his spare time, envisioning “painting with light”.
In 1946 Ben began working with photographic pendulum tracings and harmonograph machine patterns. In 1947 he read an article in Popular Science magazine that proposed the use of television testing equipment, such as a cathode ray oscilloscope, to generate simple decorative patterns, based on in formula similar to that which governs pendulum curves. This stroked his imagination and he began to investigate the proposal.
In 1950 Laposky used an oscilloscope with sine wave generators and various other electrical and electronic circuits to create abstract art, so-called “electrical compositions”. These electrical vibrations shown on the screen of the oscilloscope were then recorded using still photography (see the nearby image). Later in 1957, he used motorized rotating filters of variable speed to color the patterns.
Laposky was interested in showing designs or patterns based on natural forms, curves due to physical forces, or curves based on mathematical principles, such as various waveforms (sine-waves, square waves, and Lissajous figures). According to the exhibit documentation, Laposky pointed out a parallel between his oscillons and music, the operator of an electronic setup playing a sort of visual music.
Fifty black-and-white images of Laposky’s photographs were exhibited in 1953 at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee (To record this exhibition and Laposky’s statements of his artistic philosophy the museum published an exhibition catalogue entitled Electronic Abstractions), and later his work was shown throughout the United States and in Europe (see his presentation at the Iowa Academy of Science). His work was featured in over 250 books, magazines, newspapers, and advertising artwork worldwide.
In 1975 Laposky recalled: I got into oscillographic art through a long-time interest in art or design derived from mathematics and physics. I had worked with geometric design, analytic and other algebraic curves, ‘magic line’ patterns from magic number arrangements, harmonograph machine tracings, pendulum patterns, and so on. The oscilloscope seemed to me to be a way of getting a wider variety of similar kinds of design and with controlled effects to produce even newer forms not feasible with previous techniques.
My interest in other kinds of art was to some extent in abstract geometric painting, cubism, synchronism and futurism. The oscillons are related to the newer developments of op art, Lumia (light) art, computer art, abstract motion pictures, video synthesizer (TV) art, and laser displays, such as Laserium.
Oscillographic art might be considered as a kind of visual music, as the basic waveforms resemble sound waves. I used sine waves, saw tooths, square waves, triangular waves, and others in various combinations, modulations, envelopes, sweeps, etc. Oscillons usually are not accidental or naturally occurring forms, but are composed by the selection and control of the oscilloscope settings and of varied input circuitry. I used especially modified oscilloscopes for this work, as well as some of my own specifically designed electronic instruments.
The oscillons may be created without the use of an analogue or a digital computer system. It may even be possible, of course, to imagine or to compose some of these patterns without the use of the electron beam tracing them on the cathode ray tube. However, the electronic method greatly extends the possibilities of obtaining new and aesthetically pleasing figures. The oscillons are intended to be a form of creative fine art.
Laposky said his “visual rhythms and harmonies of electronic abstract art” were “as pleasing to the eye as compositions of sound vibrations in music are pleasing to the ear.” Oscillon photographs were often accompanied by electronic music from synthesizers made popular by Laposky’s contemporary, Robert Moog, which were based on the same types of oscillators.
Biography of Ben Laposky
Benjamin Francis “Ben” Laposky was born on 30 September 1914, on a farm south of Cherokee, a small town in Iowa, United States, to Peter Paul Laposky (1884–1959) and Leona Anastasia (Gabriel) Laposky (1888–1931). Ben had a younger brother, George Raymond Laposky (1916–1975).
In 1918 the Laposky family relocated to Colorado Springs, where in 1931 Leona died from cancer. In 1932 Ben graduated from St. Mary’s High School, Colorado Springs, and shortly thereafter, the family moved back to Cherokee, where he began working as a sign painter and draftsman at a signage shop he owned.
From 1934 through 1946, the newspaper Believe It or Not! of Ripley printed 77 of Laposky’s Magic Square puzzles. In total 117 of Laposky’s geometric number arrangements (“magics”) were printed in the newspaper. He wrote about his magic square: The crystallization in numbers of some small part of the beauty, harmony and rhythm of the universe. His work on these number matrices led to his election for membership in the Mathematical Association of America in 1950.
In the spring of 1942, Ben joined the US Army and was inducted into Fort Des Moines. He scored 134 in his army general classifications test, which put him up in the upper 5 percent of what the army classified as the ability to learn rapidly, and his mechanical aptitude test was 145. Soon Ben was sent overseas with the 43rd Infantry Division headquarters general staff section assigned as a map draftsman.
In July 1943, Ben was heavily wounded in the right foot during a Japanese bombing raid at Rendona Island, Solomon Islands. Then he received the Purple Heart and spent 10 months in army hospitals in New Zealand and Alabama. He was discharged with disability in May 1944 after two years of service, returning to his home in Cherokee.
Soon Laposky reestablished his own sign shop in Cherokee, Iowa (and dabbled in art in his spare time, which made him famous), where he died on 15 March 2000.
Curiosity is the key to problem-solving. Galileo Galilei
The Italian military engineer Agostino Ramelli (1531–ca. 1610) produced a remarkable illustrated book in 1588 describing a large number of machines that he devised, called Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli (The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli). The book, published in Paris at his own expense, contains 195 superb engravings of various machines along with detailed descriptions, written in Latin, French, and Italian. Ramelli’s book had a great influence on future mechanical engineering as can be seen in Georg Andreas Böckler’s work, Theatrum machinarum novum (1662), where he copied eighteen of Ramelli’s plates. Ramelli’s influence can also be seen in the well-known works of Grollier de Servière (Recueil d’ouvrages curieux de mathematique et de mecanique, 1719) and Jacob Leupold (the multi-volume set Theatrum machinarum, 1724-1739).
One of the 195 designs in the book is for the so-called bookwheel (also known as a reading wheel), a type of revolving bookcase that allows one person to read multiple books in one location with ease. The bookwheel was an early attempt to solve the problem of managing increasingly numerous printed works, which were typically large and heavy in Ramelli’s time. It has been called one of the earliest “information retrieval” devices and has been considered a precursor to modern technologies, such as hypertext and e-readers, that allow readers to store and cross-reference large amounts of information.
Ramelli himself described the bookwheel as: This is a beautiful and ingenious machine, very useful and convenient for anyone who takes pleasure in studying, especially those who are indisposed and tormented by gout. With this machine, a man can see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot. Moreover, it has another fine convenience in that it occupies very little space in the place where it is set, as anyone of intelligence can clearly see from the drawing.
This wheel is made in the manner shown, that is, it is constructed so that when the books are laid on its lecterns they never fall or move from the place where they are laid even as the wheel is turned and revolved all the way around. Indeed, they will always remain in the same position and will be displayed to the reader in the same way as they were laid on their small lecterns, without any need to tie or hold them with anything. This wheel may be made as large or small as desired, provided the master craftsman who constructs it observes the proportions of each part of its components. He can do this very easily if he studies carefully all the parts of these small wheels of ours and the other devices in this machine. These parts are made in sizes proportionate to each other. To give fuller understanding and comprehension to anyone who wishes to make and operate this machine, I have shown here separately and uncovered all the devices needed for it, so that anyone may understand them better and make use of them for his needs.
Biography of Agostino Ramelli
Agostino Ramelli was born in 1531 in the village Ponte Tresa near Lugano, Switzerland. Growing up amidst war and political turmoil, the young Agostino had begun studying mathematics and military architecture around 1551 when he enlisted in the army of famous Milanese condottiero Gian Giacomo de Medici, with whom he would fight the Parma war (1551-1552), the siege of Metz ( February 1553), the siege of Siena which began in August 1554, and the capture of Porto Ercole (1555). Medici’s death in November 1555 left Ramelli without a protector. He probably then came into contact with Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy, or with some of his assistants in Piedmont: he appears to have been paid by Emanuele Filiberto from 1559 to 1565. Ramelli soon developed into a key military engineer and provided his expertise in fortification and machinery used for assaulting enemy cities.
In 1565, the Catholic Ramelli, like other Italian builders and engineers, went to France and fought against the Huguenots under the Duke of Anjou. In 1572 he took part in the occupation of La Rochelle as a military engineer. In November 1572, Ramelli was seriously wounded and was taken prisoner for months. In this difficult situation, the Duke took care and protection of his son, who lived in Paris, and paid the ransom for Ramelli’s release. With the coronation of the Duke of Anjou as king in 1574, Ramelli’s position at the French court strengthened.“The Great Engineer”, as he was called, served as the French magistrate until the death of Henry III.
In a document from 1576, it is indicated that “sieur Augustin Ramelli, engineer of the king, residing in St Germain des Prés”. In 1582, Ramelli received a pension of 500 crowns, to work on the fortifications of Paris. Ramelli was also receiving commissions from Queen Mother Catherine de’ Medici, who on 16 September 1587 wrote to M. de La Salle to have Paris fortified with barricades and trenches employing Captain Agostino Ramelli. After the death of Henry III (2 August 1589), Ramelli was charged with preparing fortifications for the defense of the city of Paris from the attack that Henry of Navarre was about to bring. In the late 1580s, Ramelli designed the water features of Villa Visconti Borromeo Arese Litta (today located in the Milanese municipality of Lainate), according to an original project by Leonardo Da Vinci, who left the drawings in La Rochelle. In 1594 Ramelli participated in the siege of Paris on the side of the leagues. He then joined King Henry IV because he was qualified in 1601 as “the king’s engineer captain”.
The only other known work by Ramelli (besides his book from 1588), this one never printed, is a manuscript entitled La fabrica, et l’uso del triangolo del capitan Agostino Ramelli dal Ponte della Tresia ingegniero del Christianissimo Re di Francia et di Polonia. It is an undated manual for land measurement and fortification.
Ramelli had a daughter, Susanna, who had married the ducal butler Giovanni Andrea Mignata, and in 1607 sold to Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, for 4000 scudi, “books, ingenuities and instruments of architecture of fortresses, and other miscellaneous” most likely to be identified with the library and tools of her father. Ramelli also had a son, whose name is unknown, who was also an engineer captain and author of a design for the fortifications at Angoulême in 1588.
Coming back to work for his native Italy for some time, Ramelli died somewhere in his late 70s, probably in Paris. Although the date of his death is unknown, property documents with his signatures have been found dated as late as August of 1608, although it is not believed that he lived for terribly long after that.
Don’t ask whether you can do something, but how to do it. Adele Goldberg
In the late 1940s Angela Ruiz Robles, a Spanish teacher, writer, and inventor, designed an analog device called the Enciclopedia Mecánica, which can be considered a forerunner of the modern electronic book.
At that time, being the director of Instituto Ibáñez Martín in Ferrol, Galicia, Spain, Robles came up with the idea of a mechanical book that would allow to alleviate learning, with the minimum effort to achieve the maximum results. She thought that it could be achieved by making learning more attractive and adapting it to the level and difficulties of each student. For Robles, learning was not about memorizing and reciting a lesson, but about reasoning and thinking about its contents. She wanted to design a lighter book that housed different subjects and that would support teachers to add their own materials. Robles imagined her mechanical encyclopedia as a small, lightweight, and easy-for-using machine. She imagined the school bаgs filled only with a mechanical book reader and nothing else.
On 7 December 1949, Robles filed a patent application Nr. 190698 (see the patent of Robles), under the title Procedimiento mecánico, eléctrico y a presión de aire para lectura de libros (A mechanical, electrical and air pressure procedure for reading books), and in January 1950 received a patent.
Robles was convinced that her Mechanical Encyclopedia would transform the learning and she kept abreast of the payments for the annuities of her patent until 1961. But, in spite of the efforts she made, it was not possible to convert the old-school books into the Mechanical Encyclopedia. Robles did not receive any financial support so that she could develop his patent. Despite the failure, on 10 April 1962, she applied for a new patent (Nr. 276346), for Un aparato para lecturas y ejercicios diversos (Apparatus for diverse readings and exercises). It had a slightly different design than the Encyclopedia but retained the features that Robles believed essential. It was a portable, light, and easy-to-use book, that combined the different subjects and was worth for students with visual difficulties. Robles did not manage to secure public or private funding for her second project also.
As for content, Robles proposed alphabets and texts in several languages, structured in a logical manner and full of graphics, drawings, interactive games, and spaces to write and draw. Each subject was loaded in the machine with a kind of durable plastic cartridge, manipulated by a turning drum. Each cartridge could be read continuously or it could be skipped between chapters by simply pressing a button. There was an interactive index and a list of installed works on the machine. Robles also thought about the publishing market, imagining that there would be a wide range of works in the form of standardized cartridges that could be bought and added to the mechanical book, allowing the user to have at his disposal an authentic portable library.
The interactive content was accessed through a panel of buttons, or a “menu” as we would say today, to jump between various topics, or “screens”. The content could be visible in low light (e.g. printed in luminescent ink) and could be artificially illuminated. The book could include a kind of magnifying glass for people with visual problems. The augmentation system for the size of the text is also mentioned. There is a description of maps or drawings equipped with electrical circuits that can be illuminated by answering questions or explanatory texts as if they were interactive infographics. The cartridges that made up the books, could be stored without problems once removed from the machine, they were contained in a kind of protective packaging, prepared and safe from dirt and moisture.
For the second patent, a prototype was built in a military factory in Artillery Park of Ferrol in various metals and wood (see the nearby image). It was the size of a book of 24 by 22 centimeters and a thickness of 6 centimeters, it weighed some five kilos. Its construction was feasible, it worked without problems, and it gathered in the space of a conventional book everything that the patent promised and more. The system allowed to save sound, and the student could listen to each lesson with the push of a button.
Biography of Ángela Robles
Angela Ruiz Robles, aka “Doña Angelita”, was born on 28 March 1895, in Villamanín, province of León. She was the daughter of Elena Robles, a housewife, and Feliciano Ruiz, a pharmacist. Angela studied at Escuela de Magisterio de León. After graduation from high school, she decided to focus her life on teaching, and in 1915 started as a teacher in Leon, as among the subjects she taught were stenography, typing, and commercial accounting.
In 1917 Doña Angelita became a teacher and director of the school of Leon de Gordón and, a year later, she obtained a master’s degree and got a teaching position in Santa Uxia de Mandiá in Ferrol, Galicia, where she stayed until 1928. In 1934 Robles became the manager of the girls’ school of the national orphanage in Ferrol.
From 1938 Robles began to write his first books. In all, he published sixteen in his effort to help children study. Being an inventive mind and facing many difficulties in her work as a teacher, Robles designed also several tools, such as tachymecanographic machine, Grammatical Scientific Atlas (1944), and Enciclopedia Mecánica, which earned her several awards and national and international recognition, including the Oscar for invention at the Official and National Fair of Zaragoza (1957), the Bronze Medal at the International Exhibition in Brussels (1957), the Bronze Medal for educational innovation in Brussels (1958), the Silver Medal at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Brussels (1963), a Diploma and Medal at the Seville Exhibition (1964) and the Geneva Medal for Spanish inventors (1968).
In 1947 Robles was awarded the Cross of the Civil Order of Alfonso X the Wise, in recognition of her social and educational innovation throughout her professional career. In 1959 she was appointed as Managing Director of the Association of Spanish Inventors (ASIE) in Galicia and, since September 1973, provincial head of the International Scientific Inventory Polytechnic Federation.
Angela Robles was married to a merchant seaman—Andrés Grandal Montero (born 1882), but he died young. They had three daughters—Elena, Elvira, and Maria del Carmen.
The amazing woman Ángela Ruiz Robles died on 27 October 1975 in Ferrol, A Coruña.
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann
In the history of computers and computing, there are several figures who are tremendously important despite never actually inventing a thing. One such individual is Johann Paul Bischoff (1736-1811), adviser in the court of the Margrave Karl Alexander of Brandenburg-Ansbach in Ansbach, Bavaria. In the last quarter of the 18th century, Bischoff undertook several long trips to take a look personally at the calculating machines and instruments, that he had heard of, in order to describe them in a book.
After spending more than 16 years collecting information (from 1788), in 1804 Bischoff finished the manuscript for a book, that is a comprehensive account of the history of computing tools and methods used until then. The manuscript contained a meticulous compilation of virtually everything known for calculating methods and devices, from calculation with fingers and Napier’s Bones to the calculating machines of Pascal, Morland, Grillet, Leibniz, Poleni, Lepine, Leupold, Poetius, Boistissandeau, Hahn, Müller, and Reichold.
The book of Bischoff was the second comprehensive representation in this area, after Jacob Leupold’s Theatrum arithmetico-geometricum from 1727. Unlike his predecessor however, Bischoff’s work has never been printed in his time, but as late as 1990 (Versuch einer Geschichte der Rechenmaschine (Attempt at a History of Calculating Machines), publisher: Systhema-Verlag, editor: Stephan Weiss). The book has two parts: Part 1—”Concerning the Simple Tools” carries a historical overview and Part 2—”About Calculating Engines with Wheels” has technical descriptions of the engines. The book concludes with the 29 plates, all beautiful technical drawings.
Interestingly, mentioning Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner in the ‘simple tools’ section Bischoff says: the realization of his idea seems possible to me, but it seems like much work to me for little use and therefore I don’t think it worth the trouble to lose more time on it. And then: all the trouble so far couldn’t improve nor replace Napier’s counting sticks with better tools. Everything that was done to make them better or simpler to use concerned only the form, and not the essence.
From the end of the 19th century, the manuscript was kept in the library of the Technical University of Berlin. Part of this library was destroyed in a fire during WWII (in 1943), and the remaining part was carried away by Russian soldiers at the end of the war. Thus the manuscript was lost. Only two undated transcripts from the beginning of the 20th century survived to our time (maybe there is something more in Russian archives?). Besides detailed text descriptions, Bischoff’s manuscript also contained many tables, sketches, and large colored drawings. Unfortunately except for some sheets, most of them are lost. Only poor-quality black-and-white photographs of all drawings, taken at the beginning of the 20th century, survived to the present.
Biography of Johann Paul Bischoff
Johann Paul Bischoff was born on 20 February 1736, in Sonneberg, Thuringia, to Johann Jacob Bischoff (1706-1757) and Anna Margaretha Dreßel (1707-1767). Johann Jacob Bischoff and Anna Margaretha Dreßel married on 31 Jan 1729 in Sonneberg, and from 1729 until 1749 they had 11 children (5 sons and 6 daughters). Johann Paul was the second son.
Bischoff served almost entire his life as a civil clerk (Kriegs- und Domänenrat, adviser in matters of war and the land) in the court of the Margrave Karl Alexander of Brandenburg-Ansbach in Ansbach, Bavaria. He was something like an Architect and Planning Director of the Court. To the present time are standing several buildings in Ansbach, designed by Bischoff, as between them is the own house of Bischoff (see the nearby image), built in 1799/1800 (Feuchtwanger Straße 1), a hospital from 1805 (Kronacher Straße 8), and a dairy farm, that was built in 1795/96 (Steingruberstraße 2).
Johann Bischoff married Anna Barbara Bauersachs (1738-1787) on 11 July 1758, in Sonneberg. The couple had 7 children—3 sons and 4 daughters.
Johann Paul Bischoff died on 14 April 1811, in Sonneberg.
I continue coupling a plate of silver with one of zinc, and always in the same order, and place between each of these couples a moistened disk. I continue to form a column. If the column contains about twenty of these couples of metal, it will be capable of giving the fingers several small shocks. Alessandro Volta
The first true battery (so-called Voltaic Pile) was made in early 1800 by the celebrated Lombardian physicist Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (1745-1827). The volt, the standard unit of electric potential, was named in his honor in 1881.
In 1780, the anatomist and physician Luigi Aloisio Galvani (1737-1798), a friend of Volta (the two scientists exchanged much correspondence), was dissecting a frog affixed to a brass hook. When he touched its leg with his iron scalpel, the leg twitched. Galvani believed the energy that drove this contraction came from the leg itself, and called it animal electricity.
However, Volta disagreed with his friend, believing this phenomenon was caused by two different metals joined together by a moist intermediary. Volta verified his hypothesis through experiments and published the results in 1791. In 1794 he demonstrated that when two metals and brine-soaked cloth or cardboard are arranged in a circuit they produce an electric current. In early 1800, he stacked several pairs of alternating copper and zinc discs (electrodes) separated by cloth or cardboard soaked in brine (electrolyte) to increase the electrolyte conductivity. When the top and bottom contacts were connected by a wire, an electric current flowed through the voltaic pile and the connecting wire.
On 20 March 1800, Volta sent a long letter (in French, see the nearby image) from Como, Lombardy, to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society in London, of which Volta was also a fellow, announcing his invention (“which will no doubt astonish you”).
In April, Banks read the letter and was duly astonished. Volta’s pile was capable of generating a continuous current of electricity. This was a world apart from the static electricity of the celebrated Leyden jar and indeed a most astonishing discovery. No wonder Volta was so anxious to communicate it without delay to Banks and thereby to the Royal Society.
Banks was naturally obliged to keep Volta’s discovery confidential until it appeared in print in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions, but in the same April 1800, he leaks the contents of Volta’s letter to several acquaintances, including the surgeon Anthony Carlisle, who arranges for William Nicholson to view the letter. In May Carlisle and Nicholson constructed a Voltaic Pile according to Volta’s instructions. With this apparatus they discover the electrolysis (how an electric current leads to a chemical reaction) of water into hydrogen and oxygen, thus creating the field of electrochemistry.
In 1801 in Paris Volta gave a demonstration of his battery’s generation of electric current before Emperor Napoleon (see the picture below), who awarded Volta the Medal of the Legion of Honor and made him a count and a senator of the kingdom of Lombardy. In 1815 the Austrian emperor Francis I made him director of the philosophical faculty at the University of Padua. Later Volta went on to isolate methane, discover the methane-air-spark explosion (the basis for the internal combustion engine), and describe contact electricity, the result of contact between different metals, among many other firsts.
Biography of Alessandro Volta
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was born was born in Como, Lombardy, duchy of Milan, on 18 February 1745. His native house is still preserved in the historic center of Como, Via Alessandro Volta 62 (see the nearby image ). On the right of the main door of the house number lies the tombstone with the inscription: “This was the ancestral home of Alessandro Volta”. On the day after his birth, 19 February 1745, Alessandro was baptized in the nearby Provostal church of San Donnino.
Alessandro Volta came from a distinguished Lombard family, ennobled by the municipality of Como and almost extinguished at that time, through its service to the church. One of his three paternal uncles was a Dominican, another a canon, and the third (also Alessandro) an archdeacon. Alessandro’s father, Filippo Maria Volta (born in 1692 and died around 1752), after eleven years as a Jesuit, withdrew in the early 1730s to propagate the line. His marriage in 1733 to Maria Maddalena de’Conti Inzaghi (died 1782) (she was from a noble Lombard family, the daughter of Count Giuseppe Inzaghi from Gratz, Stiria) produced seven children who survived childhood; three girls, two of whom became nuns; three boys who followed the careers of their paternal uncles; and Alessandro, the youngest, who narrowly escaped church recruitment by his first teachers, the Jesuits.
Alessandro spent most of his first years in the nearby town of Brunate, in the house of the artisan Ludovico Monti, a barometer builder. The Volta family was well-off and had several properties in the vicinity of Como, but it seems Filippo Volta was prodigal because when he died around 1752, he left his wife and children not particularly rich. Luckily, in 1756 Alessandro and his brothers inherited the riches of a wealthy uncle.
Alessandro’s childhood was rather worrying and he learned to speak so late, that his parents even feared that he was born dumb. He said his first words when was four, and slowly, he learned to speak fluently as late as the age of seven, but then he immediately began to reveal a lively curiosity towards natural phenomena, to the point that, in the anxiety of finding some shiny straws that, according to the local peasants, had to be gold, he risked drowning in the source of Monteverde, near Camnago.
Unfortunately, Filippo Volta died around 1752, and the care of the younger children, Alessandro and his sisters Marianna and Chiara, was taken by their uncle Alessandro Volta, archdeacon of the Como cathedral. After elementary studies in the family, the boy entered in 1757, at the age of 12, the local Jesuit’s School of Rhetoric in Como, and later was sent to continue his education at the Seminario Benzi. There his favorite authors were Tasso and Virgil and he amused himself by writing verses in Latin. Although as a child he had been slow to speak Italian, Volta now seemed to have a special talent for languages. Before he left school, he had learned Latin, French, English, and German.
Around 1760, Alessandro’s teacher, the Jesuit Father Girolamo Bonesi, a philosophy professor, tried in vain to persuade him to follow the priesthood. His uncle, Alessandro, also attempted to persuade him to study law. However, having finished the Seminary, Volta decided to drop formal studies and he became interested in electricity. Thus, by the age of sixteen, Alessandro already made up his mind to be a physicist. Next years he read the works of the greatest scientists of the time, and carried out his first studies on electricity between 1762 and 1765, together with his rich and eccentric friend, the future canon Giulio Cesare Gattoni (1741-1809).
In 1774, Volta started teaching as superintendent of public schools in Como. The following year he became an ordinary professor of Experimental Physics in the Gymnasium of Como. In 1777, he traveled for the first time with scientific purposes to Switzerland and France. Setting off in the company of Count Giovio, he brought along physics tools to detect altitudes, barometric pressures, and the quality of the air, and magnets for the search of iron minerals, besides obviously all the tools recently invented by himself.
In 1778, Volta obtained the new chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Pavia. He held the chair of experimental physics at the University for nearly 40 years and was widely idolized by his students. Following the discovery of the native air of the marshes (methane) in 1778, he invented a series of tools and devices, among which the so-called Volta’s pistol and the musket that, it is told, he used to go hunting birds in the area of Campora, around Como.
Alessandro Volta actively practiced the Catholic religion but was not prudish or ascetic. He was a large, vigorous man, who enjoyed his life. Let’s see how he is described by his friend Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (it was the same Lichtenberg, who was a friend of Johann Helfrich Müller), whom Volta visited in Göttingen in November 1784: He is an extraordinary man. DeLuc is right: he wrote me once “qu’en Electricité Volta voyoit avec les yeux de Newton”. He is full of ideas and a raisonneur without peer. He had many instruments along; he unpacked them for me, and during his stay here I kept them in my own quarters. […] He is a handsome fellow, and during some extremely uninhibited hours, at a supper at my place when we talked wildly till about one o’clock, I noticed that he has an expert knowledge of the electricity in girls.
Just like his father, Alessandro Volta married at a venerable age to a much younger woman. Since 1789 he had a long love affair with a famous singer, Marianna Paris, but his family, and the emperor himself, did not allow the marriage, because the profession of singer was not of good repute. Thus Volta married on 22 September 1794 in the church of San Provino in Como, to Maria Teresa Alonsa Peregrini (born 1770), from a rich noble family. Surprisingly, the marriage was a happy one, and three sons were born: Zanino (1795-1869), Flaminio (1796-1814), and Luigi Tobia (1798-1876), Volta’s pride and joy. Despite his professional success, Volta tended to be a person inclined towards domestic life and this was more apparent in his later years. At this time he tended to live secluded from public life and more for the sake of his family.
Alessandro Volta is said to have been one of the greatest and most brilliant experimenters of his time. He retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago, a frazione of Como (now named “Camnago Volta” in his honor). He died there on 5 March 1827, just after his 82nd birthday, and was buried in Camnago.
Naturally, the first technology for producing kind of 3D models by mechanical means, which might be considered to be to some extent analogous to today’s 3D scanning and rapid prototyping (3D printing) technologies, was developed by a sculptor. In 1859 the French François Willème, who characterized himself as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and inventeur de la photosculpture, developed a method for 3D modeling, called sculpture photographique (photographing sculpture), mechanical sculpture, or sculptural portraits, which used photographic and mechanical means for 3D modeling of the human body.
In fact, there was another sculptor, Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon (1818-1881), who before Willème was attracted to photography as a medium for accurately depicting volumetric forms, but Adam-Salomon gave up sculpture for photography (and became the best French photographer of his time), while Willème envisioned the commercial and industrial applications of photography to the manufacture of sculpture.
In early 1860 Willème filed a patent application in France and obtained a patent on 14 August 1860, then another patent on 6 April 1861. Later he applied for British and US patents. US patent Nr. 43822 was granted on 9 August 1864 (see patent of Willème for Photographing Sculpture). A British patent was granted in early 1865. In the US patent is specified as: This invention relates to an improved process termed “photo-sculpture” which is based on the employment of photography in connection with the pantograph. By this improved process I am enabled to produce sculpture exactly similar to the model, whether living or otherwise, with much greater rapidity, at a less cost, and by the aid of persons having no previous knowledge of the art. I may further lessen the time necessary for the sitting and produce sculpture of larger or smaller dimensions than the original, or in any other proportions desired.
Willème presented his invention to the Société française de photographie on 17 May 1861 but needed two more years to open a large studio at 42 Boulevard de l’Étoile off the Arc de Triomphe. Willème needed finances and formed a corporation for this purpose. Interestingly, one of the principal stockholders in the company was the banker Isaac Péreire, the grandson of Jacob-Rodrigues Pereire, the creator of the Pereire calculating machine. The studio (see the lower image) had a modern cupola, forty feet wide and thirty feet high constructed of iron mullions with blue and white panes of glass.
Willème’s studio was attended by the good company of the Second French Empire, including the imperial couple and its entourage, personalities of the artistic and literary world, and society women. The vogue of photosculpture even exceeded the French borders: similar studios opened in London in 1864, and in New York in 1866. Willème was invited to Madrid to make portraits of the royal family of Spain and was rewarded with the insignia of the order of Charles III of Spain. In his studio, according to the words of the journalist Henri de Parviel, A sculptor and the sun will become collaborators working together to fashion in 48 hours busts or statues of a hitherto unknown fidelity of such great boldness in outline and admirable likeness.
Although in 1867 the photosculpture of Willème was presented successfully at Exposition universelle d’art et d’industrie in Paris, at that time the passion for photosculpture had already reached its end, and the business declined, so in 1868 Willème left his workshop (although it continued to work for some more years without its founder) and returned to his hometown of Sedan.
What is the process of photosculpture?
It was the reproduction of persons or objects in 3-dimensions with only a minimal requirement for handwork, by taking a series of photos in the round and using them as synchronized photo projections to create a sculpture. To create a photosculpture Willème would arrange the subject on a circular platform in his rotunda laboratory, surrounded by 24 cameras (one every 15 degrees). He would then photograph his silhouette simultaneously with each camera. This set of photographic profiles contained the data for a complete representation of his subject in 3 dimensions.
Willème had now collected layer data for his subjects in the form of 24 different photographs of their profile. To create a 3D image of the subject he needed to make the information in each layer accessible by projecting each image onto a screen. Next, he translated each image into the movements required to fabricate each layer. This he accomplished using a pantograph (seen at the right side of the nearby image) attached to a cutter. Willème traced each profile with one end of the pantograph while the other end cut a sheet of wood with the exact same movement. The pantograph allowed the cuts to be smaller, larger, or the same size as the original projection. The layers of wood were then assembled to create the photosculpture rough armature which he would fill in with clay (or other suitable material) and then perhaps cast or paint it, to make it look like a traditional sculpture.
The client had a choice of the size of his photosculpture, and he could get a statuette measuring some 50 cm, a medallion with a smaller size, or a bust of full or half-size. He had a choice of the material as well—plaster of Paris, terra-cotta, biscuit, bronze, alabaster, and even metal-plated by galvanoplasty. The price of a photosculpture, depending on the size and materials used, was from 270 to 500 Francs, and the time needed for manufacturing was 2-4 days (a conventional sculptor would need 3-4 months and some 2-3000 Francs for a life-sized bust).
As the hand-cutting stage of Willème’s photosculpture could still considered to be a labor-intensive process, an interesting attempt to eliminate this stage from the reproduction process was made at the beginning of the 20th century by the Italian engineer from Florence Carlo Baese di Castelvecchio (1877-1943), a grandson of Louis Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. He proposed and patented (US patent 774549) a technique for reproducing physical objects, which employs a photo-sensitive gelatin that expands in proportion to its exposure to light.
In Baese’s technique, the object to be reproduced is photographed whilst being illuminated with graduated light, so as to achieve maximum depth of contrast. Then photographic plates are produced, through which light is exposed onto photo-sensitive gelatin. When treated with water, the photosensitive gelatin material expands to form a relief corresponding to the three-dimensional shape of the bust.
Biography of François Willème
Strangely, little is known about Willème’s life, we don’t even have a picture of him or his family, which is quite unusual for an artist and photographer (nearby you can see his only auto-portrait, made around 1865, using the photosculpture technology).
Auguste François Victor Willème was born in Sedan (Givonne), Ardennes, оn 27 May 1830. He was the son of a liquor retailer. As a boy, Willème took drawing lessons at a local school.
In the middle 1840s Willème and his family moved to Paris, where he enrolled at l’École des beaux-arts de Paris, to study painting under Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1815-1884), a specialist in history and portrait paintings. Willème also studied sculpture, making models for manufacturers of art bronzes, and in the early 1850s, he was attracted to photography, firstly to document his statuettes.
After developing photosculpture in 1859-1860, Willème founded a company, Société générale de photosculpture de France, headed by Willème and his associate—dealer, and artwork editor Charles de Marnyhac (1838-1897), which attracted investors, and in April 1863 opened a large studio in Paris. However, despite the initial success and glory, he was forced to leave his studio in early 1868 due to financial difficulties and returned to his hometown of Sedan in 1869. There he entered into a partnership with a local photographer and gave drawing classes at Collège Turenne. In Sedan, he also continued to make photo-sculptures.
During his career as a photosculptor, François Willème was rewarded with medals at many exhibitions and received the order of Charles III of Spain. Sometime after 1885, Willème and his wife retired to Roubaix, near Lille, where he died on 29 January 1905.
The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm. Aldous Huxley
Various attempts for transmitting messages overland date back to the millennium before Christ, and include ingenious uses of homing pigeons, heliographs (mirrors), flags, torches, and beacons, but none of them gained wide currency. One of the earliest known today examples is described by the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus (523 BC-456 BC), in Agamemnon—when Troy was captured, the news was spread by lighting fires in ten signal towers specially built to announce the victory. In the 4th century BC the Alexandrine engineers Cleoxenus and Democleitus invented the pyrsia, a system based on two signalers each with only two torches which, according to the way they were held, transmitted the letters of the alphabet.
Many centuries passed before the European inventors rediscovered the ancient secrets of communication. In 1499 the German Benedictine abbot and polymath Johannes Trithemius reinvented the ancient pyrsia in his Steganographia. In 1646 the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher published his treatise Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, which in addition to various inventions such as the projector, described a telecommunications experiment that he called cryptogamia catoptrica, again based on the principles of the pyrsia.
Due to the invention of the telescope, as well as many discoveries in physics, especially in acoustics, made at the beginning of the 17th century, it was a matter of time before communication systems, based on them, were developed. It seems one of the pioneers in both areas was the Enlightenment natural philosopher and polymath Robert Hooke, considered as оne of the most brilliant and versatile figures of his time.
One of the areas, in which Robert Hooke worked, was acoustics. In the 1660s, in his experiments for the Royal Society (he was the Royal Society’s curator of experiments from 1662 and a fellow from 1663), Hooke discovered that sound could be transmitted over wire or string into an attached earpiece or mouthpiece. An acoustic string phone is said to have been made by him in the early 1660s, according to his remarkable book Micrographia, published in 1665, where he says: ’tis not impossible to hear a whisper a furlong’s distance, it having been already done; and perhaps the nature of the thing would not make it more impossible, though that furlong should be ten times multiply’d… for that [air] is not the only medium. I can assure the reader, that I have, by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound to a very considerable distance in an instant, or with as seemingly quick a motion as that of light, at least, incomparably swifter than that, which at the same time was propagated through the air; and this not only in a straight line, or direct, but in one bended in many angles.
So, obviously, Hooke made experiments propagating the sound using a vibrating wire, a kind of sound communication, although his intention most probably was to use it for music transmission. What about his visual communications solution?
Hooke was an ingenious inventor (he was considered the greatest meckanick this day in the world) with a host of novel ideas covering a wide range of scientific instruments, including microscopes (see the nearby drawing of the Hooke microscope) and telescopes (he built the first reflecting telescope in 1673). Hooke demonstrated his great interest in telescopes, proposing a giant telescope to be erected in Gresham College and making a sketch of this. He also invented a lens-grinding machine (although it was apparently never built), to be used for very large lenses, and proposed a design of a folded telescope with mirrors that would allow a very long focal length, but not be as cumbersome. He invented an equatorial clock drive for a telescope, which is universally used today to maintain the alignment of a telescope with the stars by turning the mounting to counteract the rotation of the earth. Hooke also invented the iris diaphragm, used today in cameras.
As early as 17 February 1664 the Royal Society urged that Mr. Hooke set down in writing and produce to the Council his whole apparatus and management for speedy intelligence, but nothing was forthcoming until 29 February 1672, when he proposed a way for a very speedy conveyance of intelligence from place to place by the sight assisted with telescopes, to be employed on high places, by the correspondents using a secret character… The paper of this proposition, and the particulars of the manner of practicing it, were read, but not left by Mr. Hooke to be registered, but taken away by him. The Council ordered that some experiment should be made of this proposition at the next meeting, and on 7 March a test was performed across the Thames. After the test, The contrivance was applauded as very ingenious… [but] the President objected, that the use of it would be often hindered by hazy weather.
More than 10 years later, on 21 May 1684 Hooke presented to the Royal Society a lecture about Shewing a way how to communicate one’s mind at great distances. He said he had considered this matter some years prior to 1677, …but being [recently] laid by the great siege of Vienna, the last year, by the Turks, [it] did again revive in my memory.
Hooke’s apparatus (see the lower drawing) consisted of elevated thin wooden frames, supporting a screen, behind which were suspended deal-board characters with symbols, rigged via pulleys and control lines, and presenting the letters and special signs. At each structure, a telescope would be placed allowing the operator stationed at the site to view the communications of the adjacent site. For nighttime use, Hooke proposed a 2×5 array of lanterns disposed in a certain order, which may be veiled, or discovered, according to the method of character agreed on; by which all sorts of letters may be discovered clearly, and without ambiguity. With this equipment, Hooke thought …’tis possible to convey intelligence from any one high and eminent place, to any other that lies in sight of it, tho’ 30 or 40 miles distant, in as short a time as a man can write what he would have sent, and as suddenly to receive an answer, as he that receives it hath a mind to return it, or can it write down in paper… Nay, by the help of three, four, or more such eminent places, visible to each other… ’tis possible to convey intelligence, almost in a moment, to twice, thrice, or more times that distance, with a great certainty as by writing. Moreover, confirming the close association between communications and cryptography, Hooke noted that by cruptography (as he spelled it) the arbitrary mapping between symbols and letters permits the whole alphabet [to] be varied 10000 ways; so that none but the two extreme correspondents shall be able to discover the information conveyed.
The symbols, to be used in the communication, were selected by Hooke so that the communications could be made …with great ease, distinctness and secrecy. In addition to symbols, representing the letters of the alphabet, Hooke devised single-character control codes to be displayed above the message during transmission, providing eleven examples of these out-of-band signals, to signify special meanings, for example: “I am ready to communicate”, “I am ready to observe”, “I shall be ready presently”, “I see plainly what you show”, “Show the last again”, and “Not too fast”.
In Hooke’s presentation is clearly shown that at the time no such scheme had been put into practice, but he was extremely optimistic about the outcome of his system: …with a little practice thereof, all things may be made so convenient, that the same character may be seen at Paris, within a minute after it hath been exposed at London, and the like in proportion for greater distances; and that the characters may be exposed so quick after one another, that a composer shall not exceed the exposer in swiftness.
Robert Hooke had other contributions to the area of computing, communications, and human intellect, which have to be mentioned. The first of them is directly connected to the calculator (Stepped Reckoner) of Gottfried Leibniz.
In fact, Robert Hooke was famous not only as a genius scientist and inventor, but being fiercely competitive, he was remembered also for his brutal disputes (not always within the boundaries of fair debate) with his rivals, as between them were some of the greatest minds of his time (and of the whole human history), like Christiaan Huygens, Isaac Newton, and as we will see shortly, Gottfried Leibniz.
Leibniz traveled from Paris to London in January 1673, not only with a diplomatic mission but also on invitation by the Royal Society and its secretary Henry Oldenburg, an old correspondent and supporter of him. On 2 February 1673, Leibniz demonstrated his calculating machine to the Society. During the demonstration, Hooke looked carefully at all sides of the machine, and not only examined it in detail but also expressed a desire to take it apart completely to examine its insides 🙂 Moreover, only several days after the demonstration, on 5 February 1673, Hooke attacked Leibniz in public (at the same meeting, Hooke attacked also Newton, so it seems he had just an attacking day 🙂 making derogatory comments about the machine and promised to construct his own superior and better working calculating machine, which he would present to the society.
Speaking about Leibniz’s calculating machine, Hooke declared that it seems to me so complicated with wheels, pinions, cantrights, springs, screws, stops, and truckles, that I could not perceive it ever to be of any great use… It could be only fit for great persons to purchase, and for great force to remove and manage, and for great wits to understand and comprehend. In contrast, Hooke announced that I have an instrument now making, which will perform the same effects [and] will not have a tenth part of the number of parts, and not take up a twentieth part of the room.
It seems Hooke kept his word, because there is a record from 5 March 1673, claiming that he produced the arithmetical engine, mentioned by him in the meeting of 5 February, and showed the manner in large numbers, for multiplication or division, one may be able to do more than twenty by the common way of working arithmetic. Unfortunately, Hooke’s calculating machine remained as sparsely documented, as his spring-powered model representing one of about thirty different envisioned species of flying machines. The machine was listed among the artificial rarities in the collection of Gresham College in 1681 but then disappeared, leaving no traces behind. It is possible that Hooke’s machine was based upon the design of Samuel Morland because it was said, that he made it in a matter only of a few days. Another very interesting fact is that only a couple of days before the demonstration of Leibniz on 2 February 1673, on 31 January 1673, Hooke wrote in his diary that he Saw Sir S. Morland’s Arithmetic engine Very Silly. It seems, however, that the machines of Morland were not that silly 🙂 and Hooke borrowed some ideas from the multiplication machine of Morland. On 20 March Hooke recorded that Mr Stanton shewd me his module of Arithmetick engine. This was presumably the model of Hooke’s design that he had requested earlier in the month from Edward Stanton, a highly regarded London clockmaker.
Interestingly, Hooke also speculated on the physical operation of the human mind, although he didn’t go as far as Thomas Hobbes in assigning a material existence to the soul. The operation of the mind Hooke imagined in the form of a coiled spring: There is as it were a continued chain of ideas coyled up in the repository of the brain, the first end of which is farthest removed from the center or seat of the soul where ideas are formed, which is always the moment present when considered; And therefore according as there are a greater number of [layers of] these ideas between the present sensation or thought in the center, and any other, the more is the soul apprehensive of the time interposed.
To evaluate the storage capacity of the human brain, Hooke calculated the number of thoughts that could be registered per second, hour, day, year, and lifetime, and took a round sum but 21 hundred million 🙂