The Transistor, Part 3: Endless Reinvention

Creatures of Thought

For over a hundred years the analog dog wagged the digital tail. The effort to extend the reach of our senses – sight, hearing, even (after a manner of speaking) touch, drove engineers and scientists to search for better components for telegraph, telephone, radio and radar equipment. It was a happy accident that this also opened the door to new kinds of digital machines.1 I set out to tell the story of this repeated exaptation, whereby telecommunications engineers supplied the raw materials of the first digital computers, and sometimes even designed and built such computers themselves.

By the 1960s, however, this fruitful relationship came to a close, and so too does my story. The makers of digital equipment no longer had any need to look outward to the world of the telegraph, telephone, and radio for new and improved switches, because the transistor itself provided a seemingly inexhaustible vein of…

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