"The purpose of computers is insight, not numbers" (1962)

This 1962 documentary Logic by Machine (Computer and the Mind of Man) gets off to a slow start but it’s worth a watch:

From the same timeframe, 1963, there are some collected papers from a conference, where the organiser clearly had great difficulty getting comfortable with the idea of non-numerical computing, the very subject of the conference:
Advances in Programming and Non-Numerical Computation

In the first part, an introduction gives a succinct historical account of the development of programming since the invention of the digital computer, and the other four chapters discuss the theory and the developing practice of methods of communicating with the computer, particularly for non-numerical purposes. The second provides a summary of possible non-numerical work, and more detail on three particular applications, in theorem-proving, game-playing, and learning, and information retrieval.
It is hoped that this book provides a suitable introduction for a final year student seeking interesting research possibilities not too closely connected with his undergraduate work. It should also give to the intelligent layman, who is prepared to do some non-trivial reading, ideas about just what a machine can do, how it does it, and some of the methods, and the problems, of making further advances.


“Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.”

–Gordon Clark.

1 Like

Going back to 1843, we hear from Ada Lovelace, speaking of Babbage’s Analytical Engine, as quoted at the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments:

… it might act upon other things besides number , were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent…

This is one of my favourite bits of computing history, that Ada grasped the idea of symbolic computation, even at a time when the computer was just an idea.

1 Like