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John Von Neumann 1985

George Stibitz (1904-1995)

The development of the computer and it's potential in the fine arts as foreseen by George Stibitz, computing pioneer

Born in York, Pennsylvania in 1904, he may be considered to be the father of the modern digital computer. It is of great interest to me that one of the earliest developers of the binary computer was himself an accomplished artist painting in oils and a variety of other mediums. He was among the first to experiment with visual imaging on the computer in relation to military and biological imaging in the early 1940’s.

After earning his MS in physics in 1927 he completed his Ph.D. in 1930 and accepted a position with Bell Laboratories in New York City. In 1937, on observing the similarity between the "on-off" positions of electronic relays and the binary "one or Zero" notation in mathematics, he constructed a one digit binary calculator. Named the "Model-K", the "K" stood for the kitchen table on which it was assembled. His colleagues at Bell Labs expressed interest as to whether this little relay calculator could be expanded to perform complex mathematics, and in 1939 the Complex Calculator was completed and put into use at the Laboratories.

Stibitz’s interest in the use of the computer as an artistic medium developed as he realized the powerful manipulative techniques of form and color which it provided. In 1949 he gave a paper (Oak Ridge National Laboratories) on the function of the computer with emphasis on the "non-numerical" uses. In his 80’s, after suffering a stroke Stibitz fell back on his artistic expression as some solace for losing his once-great ability to program computers. His portrait of John Von Neumann, theoretical chemist, physicist, computer designer, genius, was done using an Amiga 500 computer, Delux Paint program & Delta Graphics. The image on display is a Canon color copy of the original which is the property of the estate of George Stibitz.

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