The Riding the Digital Wave Summit: About

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On 7-9 August 1951, the first computer conference in Australia, and one of the earliest in the world, was held in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Sydney, and jointly convened by the Department (through Professor David Myers) and the CSIRO Department of Radiophysics (through Trevor Pearcey).

It was a very significant event in Australian computing history, and amongst its 186 attendees were many who would go on to become significant players in the Australian computer industry. The attendees were from universities, government departments, and industrial and commercial organisations from all Australian states. 13 of the attendees from CSIRO were human computers — women. Although only a total of 16 women were in attendance at the conference, their presence acknowledged the beginning of the recognition of women to computing.

Professor Douglas Hartree from Cambridge University, who was the international guest speaker, delivered the opening papers at the conference. Prof. Hartree was a leading authority on mechanical computation — he built the first differential analyser in England in the 1930s and opened the first English computing conference in 1949.

The conference was intended to introduce participants to the new developments in computing and programming techniques, and was an opportunity to display equipment — including CSIRAC. First named CSIR Mark 1, it was the fourth stored-program computer in the world and was built by Trevor Pearcey, Maston Beard and their team at the Division of Radiophysics. This new high-speed digital computer was demonstrated for the first time at the conference, and it even played music!

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of this key milestone, Pearcey Foundation’s Dr. Peter Thorne is leading a passionate and expert program advisory committee comprising of David Abramson (Director, Research Computing Centre, University of Queensland), Barbara Ainsworth (Curator, Monash University Museum of Computing History), Bob Kummerfeld (Associate Professor, Computer Science, University of Sydney) and Liming Zhu (Research Director, Software and Computational Systems, CSIRO’s Data61).