Friday, June 17, 2011

Convergence - nearly forty years old and counting

Many thanks to Michael Gordon-Smith who responded to my tweeting of my blog post on convergence.

In my tweet I asked for earlier references to "convergence" than 1977. He offered me two.

The first is from New Scientist 15 November 1973 P. 471. It reads in part;

After six years of steady sniping by the computer specialists at the telecommunications engineers over their failure to rise to the challenge of computing, the counter-attack by the telecommunications engineers has started. The computermen have long alleged that the telecommunications designers were incapable of providing the needs for communicating between computers, and that the role of the computer within the telecommunications system itself was being belittled. However, times are changing. Recently the Chairman's address to the electronics division of the Institution of Electrical Engineers tackled the subject. His address to a London audience was entitled: "Computers and Communications - convergence or conflict?"

The speech is reported to have defended the highly standardised telco industry against the then highly chaotic computing industry. The speaker argued the conflict between the two camps stemmed from the fact "that the injudicious injection of computer technology into telecommunications may also inject the incompatibility which is so much a feature of many present-day computers."

The article itself goes on to describe current circumstances (in 1973) saying;

For several years many UK computer users have used packet switching as a hefty stick with which to beat the Post Office. The technique uses intermediate storage of data travelling between two computers. .... Endless papers have been written about the virtues of packet switching and the Post Office will shortly set up an experimental service.

The most lauded example of packet switching in use is the ARPA network which serves research computers across the United States and in a few places in Europe.

The article went on with a bit of discussion of the telco engineering side denigrating packet switching as a long term solution. (The conflict side of this resulted in the great coalitions for changes in regulation of telecommunications - but that is another story.)

Of course we now know that the packet switching brigade won, and the ARPAnet evolved into the Internet.

The second example was a book from 1972, Government Regulation of the Computer Industry which at four places between pages 70 and 82 refers to the "growing convergence of computing and communications."

This is interesting as it explicitly in a policy setting. They are, of course, only references to part of the convergence discussion, and don't otherwise address the telecommunications/media convergence that is more the focus of our "convergence review".

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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