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100th anniversary of Konrad Zuse: creator of the first programming language (tu-berlin.de)
15 points by mojuba on June 22, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

The name of said language being "Plankalkül". Which is the best name for a programming language. Ever.

("Plan Calculus" doesn't quite capture it)

What makes you think so? Do you understand German in general?

He was also one of the first to articulate the notion of the computable world. Wolfram and crew owe Zuse an intellectual debt (though as far as I know he doesn't appear in the footnotes to A New Kind of Science, big surprise).

Zuse should be a folk hero for anyone interested in the notion of a discrete, computable physics.

Hmmm... In 1843 Ada Lovelace wrote a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with Babbage's Analytical Engine, and is generally considered to be the first computer program. Having said that the early 19th century Jacquard looms used punch cards for pattern instructions. Hollerith expanded on this with his 1890 census.

Zuse's language was never implemented in his lifetime. You could argue the same about Lovelace's algorithm, but not about Turing machines.

Zuse certainly developed the first programmable computer (albeit an electromechanical one, the first digital one was the UK Colossus a year later) and it's certainly an amazing achievement, but not the first programming languages.

Wikipedia has more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Zuse

It terms it the first high level non-von Neumann programming language.


Actually Ada only published the code, which was earlier presented by Babbage (at his only public talk, in Italy).

One shouldn't forget that he was a Nazi collaborator, used his skills to design bombs at Henschel among other things, and was financed by the Nazi regime right till the end of the war.

He was a German during the war. There's a difference. I think you're thinking of people like Henry Ford and Thomas Watson (founder of IBM).

There is also the difference that he properly didn't have much choice.

Thomas Watson on the other hand wasn't forced to make the punchcards the nazis used to run their census and kill the jews; he did it very, very willingly.

And Ford was given a fucking medal by Hitler.

I disagree. There is a huge difference between not resisting the regime(which is what most Germans are guilty of) and working in the weapons industry, actively supporting the war effort.

In fairness this represents him as a Nazi sympathiser etc. Which is somewhat unfair given his contribution:

IIRC he built computers to help guide the bombs, it's questionable where that becomes collaboration. From what I know, and from a quick refresh just now, there is nothing to suggest he was an out and out Nazi (or held any of their views).

(I think it is absolutely important to point out what you did; but I feel how you phrased it does him a little injustice :))

He worked for the German government during the reign of the Nazi party. He was a Nazi collaborator, period. You can make all the arguments you like that he wasn't an evil man, but you can't deny the fact that he worked for the Nazi's voluntarily.

Bullshit. For a start the term "Nazi Collaborator" is hard to actually apply to a German outright; because usually it applies to those in a conquered country working for the aggressor. Also; you and I would almost certainly have worked, fought or invented stuff for our country in the same situation. It's very hard to argue otherwise.

More importantly there is a difference between information and suggestion. The tone of the GP seemed to heavily suggest "collaboration" etc. Which is highly unfair on a number of levels (unless it is true; but I can find no information either way). The insinuation is a lot more than "he worked during the war to produce bombs".

Ultimately I think it is best not to judge based on limited information; there is nothing wrong with pointing it out. It is the judgement I take issue with. There is this horrible tendency I am observing, particularly in the younger generations (<20) for some reason, to display growing xenophobia against Germans of that era. Which is worrying.

No, I would not have worked for the Nazi government, thank you very much. Hundreds of high-caliber scientists and engineers chose to avoid working for the Nazis or the Fascists and fled elsewhere.

I can appreciate and even believe the argument that Zuse is not an inherently evil man despite working for the Nazis, but he nevertheless made a choice to support the Nazi regime with his talent. That choice may not have made him an irredeemably evil person but it was still a bad choice and pretending that we don't live in a world where choices have consequences, for yourself and others, is not only fantasy but a recipe for disaster.

No, I would not have worked for the Nazi government, thank you very much. Hundreds of high-caliber scientists and engineers chose to avoid working for the Nazis or the Fascists and fled elsewhere.

But the point is you can't for certain say that (statistically you probably would have ended up doing it, or be dead, one of the two). Who knows if we'd have seen it coming in time, or been privileged enough to get out, or not made a decision to stay and try to protect your people, etc. Hundreds of thousands did work and fight beneath the Nazi government (some by choice, some by default). At what point do you stop being a victim and it turns into making a morally wrong choice?

EDIT: it's worth pointing out that we can assume any rational man with a knowledge of history would choose to run for it. But that's cheating :)

It's hard to make an outright judgement on this guy. I agree he made a very wrong choice to stick with the Nazi's - but we do not know how he viewed things, what he saw etc. Partly because we were not there (generally, at the time) and partly because he doesn't seem to have told anyone his decisions/feelings (that I can find).

And this is my gripe; discussing the fact he made a choice (that we consider poor) to work for the Nazi government is one thing. But the insinuation was much wider than that; and that is very wrong :) The implication is that he was on-board with the sick things that they did; and that is disingenuous (my gf just pointed out that a modern equivalent could be saying a Mr Joe Bloggs, by working in a US science lab, is in support of the Guantanamo Bay detentions).

One of my German friends made a very important point to me once. Which is basically that it is easy to forget that the Nazi's were an elected government prior to the war - and that they were viewed quite positively for a short while. The descent into war was swift (as these things go) and pretty brutal. It's easy to sit here and make claims about what we would have done, or judge those working for the government but really it's bunk to do so. He also points out that there was a distinct difference between the Nazi government and the Nazi party - the problem was they shared the same crazed leadership.

(interesting discussion btw)

Reminds me of one Werner von Braun, no?

Germany could be and would be the top scientific and technological nation of the XX century (space research, computers, etc etc) if they had not gone mad.

They have and it is not. Still we cannot discount its achievements even when they were used immorally or for immoral goals.

> Germany could be and would be the top scientific and technological nation of the XX century (space research, computers, etc etc) if they had not gone mad.


And you know this how? Developing computer and space industries takes a lot of resources, which Germany would not have had.

Do you mean natural resources and so? They could have been bought.

I mean money and ppl. The computer industry in US was a product of enormous investments during WW2, A/H bombs projects, moon missions. Countries like USSR, UK, France, China were left far behind and had to copy most of US technology. German advances before WW2 were to a big degree product of US investments. Could it pay back and invest in basic science, while having no colonies and probably no access to most of world market?

Suppose Germany had spend the money used to wage WWI and WWII for science instead?

By the way, Britain's computer industry was on par with the American one just after the war.

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