1005Los Alamos Labs' MANIAC computer
- Oct 4, 2006
OK, this is just a little off topic.
Does anyone have any personal knowledge of Los Alamos Labs' MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer Numerical Integrator And Computer)? It was built in the early 50s (vacuum tube powered, of course) to help design the H-bomb. It was perhaps the first computer to be programmed to play (a simplified version of) chess, too.
It was also unique, I think, in that it had "audio feedback" so that the operators could get an idea of how it was working, and could debug bad code by listening to the odd sounds coming from its speaker. Apparently, pickup wires were laid next to (but not directly connected to) the various data cables in the computer. These "antenna" wires were connected to a simple audio amplifier and speaker and the result was that one could hear the rhythm of the code as it was being executed. This does not sound much unlike the program that played "Daisy" through an AM radio sitting atop an Altair computer.
In SciFi movies of the fifties, military and industrial stock footage was often used to good effect. In a very good 1953 film called "The Magnetic Monster", the MANIAC was featured complete with the authentic (I think) sounds it made. This is the only recording of the working computer I've ever been able to find. Has anyone reading this actually been lucky enough to have heard these sounds in person? Any further info would be greatly appreciated.
Also of interest, this same movie has some footage of Berkely's and GE's Differential Analyzer, a room-sized mechanical analog computer made up of hundreds (thousands?) of gears, wheels, and spindles that was perfect for a SciFi film. So perfect, in fact, that it was featured in a handful of other 50s films.