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.