Tales of the Unexpected: an alternative history of the computing industry.

Speakers: Bill Thompson and John Naughton
Date: 28th October 2010
Time: 14.30 Room open in advance (from 14.00) – meet up with society members.

Fellows Library of the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD

About the seminar

Hindsight is the only exact science. That's why most history is misleading -- it's written with the omniscience conferred by hindsight. This leads to what Herbert Butterfield christened "the Whig interpretation of history" with its narratives of inexorable progress up to the present, with each step in the story presented as a logical or inevitable development of what went before.

The trouble is that everyone who has ever been involved in a significant development knows this to be false. Progress is made by people who don't know what happens next, who are making decisions in the face of great or total uncertainty, and often involves blind alleys, stuff that didn't work or things that turned out to be useful in totally unexpected ways.

This joint presentation asks what the history of computing would look like if we abandon the Whig interpretation and instead give due weight to ignorance, folly, serendipity, crime and accident. Examples will be described of such developments that advanced and set the path for the computing industry.

The presentation will be followed by discussion and those attending will no doubt add further insight and examples.

About the speakers

Bill Thompson is a prominent blogger, BBC broadcaster and technology commentator. John Naughton is an historian of the Internet and writes the Observer's 'Networker' column. He is also Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.

Click to see a podcast of the event