Sugimoto at CBI



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Mai Sugimoto at CBI:

Reflections of a Visiting Scholar

Mai Sugimoto 2016-17 CBI visiting scholar
Mai Sugimoto

In September 2016 I came to CBI to spend a whole year on research leave. This was my first leave since I started working at Kansai University in Japan in the spring of 2012. I have been working on several projects in parallel and have tried to make progress in as many of them as possible. Here I would like to show you some highlights and achievements during the past year.

In April 2017 I published an introductory article, “Computers and ‘Giant Brains’: Educational Campaign by Edmund Berkeley” written in Japanese (Kagakusi Kenkyu, Vol.56, No.281, the History of Science Society in Japan, pp.32-36). This article is based on one of my articles, “Edmund Berkeley as a Popularizer and an Educator of Computers and Symbolic Logic” (Historia Scientiarum, The International Journal of the History of Science Society in Japan, Vol.23, No.1 (No.109), pp.1-23, July 2013), which uses CBI materials from the Edmund C. Berkeley Papers (CBI 50). I was happy to introduce Edmund Berkeley and the early history of ACM to Japanese readers.

Another publication I worked on was Understanding Information: From the Big Bang to Big Data published by Springer in September 2017. I contributed with Katsuhiko Sano (Hokkaido University) to chapter 6, “From Computing Machines to Learning Intelligent Machines: Chronological Development of Alan Turing’s Thought on Machines,” which tracks Turing’s conceptual continuity between his paper on Turing machines in 1936 to the Turing test in 1950. Various books on Turing and computer science collected at CBI were very helpful to write this paper.

I have been writing a book in Japanese on the early history of computer science and the analogy between the brain and computing machinery. CBI and the University of Minnesota Libraries provided great access to previously published books and articles which no library in Japan possesses and to old periodicals such as Datamation and various conference proceedings. CBI oral histories such as interviews with Arthur and Alice Burks and with Allen Newell were also very informative. Also I conducted some research on IBM’s laptop computer, ThinkPad, whose development teams were located in the US and in Japan, and found further research in Japan is needed.

As a chair of special committee of The History of Science Society of Japan, I analyzed information for curricula and syllabi for the history of science, technology, and medicine courses offered in Japan. It revealed that 97 syllabi in Japan refer to the history of computing technology or information and communications technologies but the variety of textbooks, especially for the history of computing, is fairly small. This fact drove me to start a translation project of Computer: A History of the Information Machine, the 3rd Edition, by Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan Ensmenger, and CBI’s Jeffrey Yost. Three Japanese historians of computing, Osamu Uda, Chigusa Kita, and I will translate this book, and hopefully we will have a Japanese version in a couple of years. I am sure this book will be a great help for students and those who teach the history of computing in Japan.

In addition, I did research on the introduction of courses on the history of science, technology, and medicine from the US to Japan during the 1950s, and I found that several faculty members from the University of Minnesota at that time made a certain impact on it. And the University Archives, which is located a few door away from CBI, gave me easy access to their records. I will dig for more materials after I get back to Japan.

I wish I could have done more at CBI, but time went so fast. I am grateful to Tom Misa, Jeff Yost, Katie Charlet, Amanda Wick, and all who helped me at University of Minnesota for their kind support during my research leave. I hope I will be able to come to visit CBI again soon.

Mai Sugimoto
Associate Professor, Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University


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