Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in |

No computer ever looked like this relay based system that is performing basic arithmetic by using water-based switches to produce data. Yet it readily brings to mind the big upright electronic computing machines built for code-breaking in Britain during World War II, the Colossus series that is featured in documentaries about the era: the parts were visible, lights flashed on and off – one has the sense of watching computing as it takes place. Diane Morin playfully and skillfully captures the mood of the emerging digital age in its earliest moments, revealing the mathematical logic of how it worked for those who want to know, conveying an inorganic vitalism of materials and natural forces for those who want to understand it experientially. The switches in Morin’s system are test tubes of various shapes that rock back and forth when activated, so that the water inside them changes level. These levels are the data that is transmitted to a set of electromagnetic relays and mechanical switches across the room, where additions are performed. Le grand calculateur I can compute up to two bytes of data, i.e., sixteen bits that are displayed as an array of glowing zeros and ones.