Home > Uncategorized > The Godfather of ICT4D, and ICT4D’s First Computer

The Godfather of ICT4D, and ICT4D’s First Computer

When did ICT4D start?  Conventional histories might typically cite the World Bank’s 1998/9 “Knowledge for Development” World Development Report, released in October 1998 (in which case, we should’ve just celebrated ICT4D’s 10th birthday).

 

But the use of digital technologies to achieve development goals goes back much further than that.

 

To 1956, and the installation of the developing world’s first digital computer: the HEC-2M.  It was used to undertake numerical calculations at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, including statistical analyses for India’s national plans such as the Second Five-Year Plan (1956-61).  We should thus have already celebrated the golden jubilee of ICT4D.

 

Even more intriguing, one of the original team members that worked with the HEC-2M is in his 70s but still very much around: Prof. Dwijesh Dutta Majumder, who is now Professor Emeritus at the ISI, and currently researching particularly on medical image processing.

 

Unless there are any other nominations, I think Prof. Majumder should be christened the godfather (or perhaps midwife?) of ICT4D.

 

You can find out more about the HEC-2M and Prof. Majumder’s role in a couple of Dataquest articles, one from 1985 and one from 2006.  I am happy to report that the HEC-2M – ICT4D’s first computer – was designed by a professor in a UK university.  (Sadly it wasn’t me and it wasn’t Manchester; it was Prof. Andrew Booth at Birkbeck and the computer was built in the UK by the forerunner of ICL (for whom I used to work, so I can claim some connection!).  More details on Booth’s work here.)

 

Prof. Majumder also recalls that, although not automated and not “proper” computers, the first analogue computers in the developing world were separately but simultaneously developed and demonstrated in 1952 at the ISI and .. .. where else but ICT4D’s mecca, Bangalore, at the Indian Institute of Science.

 

IISc itself doesn’t appear to lay claim to this first, but I like this historical alignment of past and present.

 

Barring new information, India seems to take the ICT4D first computer prize.  For other continents, I can get back to 1960 for both Africa (http://www.ifip.org/36years/m16zw.html) and Latin America (http://www-di.inf.puc-rio.br/~lucena/bio_eng.html).  But I suspect those can be bettered; e.g. O Riain, Sean (2006) Dominance and Change in the Global Computer Industry: Military, Bureaucratic, and Network State Developmentalisms. Studies in Comparative International Development, 41 (1) pp. 76-98 claims the Brazilian Navy installed its first computer in 1958 but no source is given and I can’t find any corroboration.

 

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  1. Richard Heeks
    3 January 2009 at 2:38 am

    I think the first use of digital technology probably represents the most credible starting point for ICT4D.

    However, some respondents have made a case for radio. Once again, I think India may claim the origins. It is reported that Mr Gianchand Motwane made the first radio broadcast from Bombay in 1920 (http://www.radioheritage.net/Story23.asp), though that’s also the year four medical students are said to have broadcast from a theatre roof in Buenos Aires.

    First reports for Africa and other Asian nations seem to be around 1923.

    A history of communication for development, which traces the history back to radio stations in Latin America and South Asia in the 1940s broadcasting with the intention of assisting rural development can be found in: Manyozo, L. (2006) Manifesto for development communication: Nora Quebral and
    the Los Baños School of Development Communication, Asian Journal of Communication, 16(1), 79-99

    Key parts of Manyozo’s paper are summarised under the Wikipedia entry on “Development Communication“.

  2. reneherlitz
    30 March 2009 at 9:16 am

    As for Cuba, the first digital computer, an IBM 650 RAMAC, was installed in late 1958 by an oil company. I came across this fact when writing my diploma thesis on software exports from Cuba some two years ago (http://www.flp.tu-berlin.de/fileadmin/fg53/ZiiK/Veroeffentlichungen/kuba-sw-export.pdf , only available in German). The source of this information (Blanco Encinosa, Lázaro J. (2003). Apuntes para una historia de la In-
    formática en Cuba. Internet: http://www.sld.cu/galerias/doc/sitios/infodir/
    apuntes_para_una_historia_de_la_informatica_en_cuba.doc ) was verified in an interview with Tomás López Jiménez, one of the pioneers of Cuban ICT, in February 2007.

    Due to the Cuban Revolution on January 1st, 1959, the computer was never used for its dedicated purpose. The attempt to use it for pension calculations after 1959 failed because of the lack of technical know-how of the Cuban staff and the lack of technical assistence by IBM, which left the country after the revolution.

    Less than 12 years later however the “Centro de Investigaciones Digitales” presented the first computer developed and produced in Cuba, the CID-201, on April 18, 1970.

  1. 30 April 2011 at 5:09 pm

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