Oral history of British science
Hoare, Tony (Part 4 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, Cambridge
Hoare, Charles Antony Richard, 1934- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 4: Remarks on: first encountering a computer, a Ferranti Mercury, on a course run by Leslie Fox at Oxford in 1959; anecdote about TH first program inspired by an algorithm in 'The theory of games' by [John von] Neumann and economist [Oskar] Morgenstern; mechanisms of using a Ferranti Mercury. [02:45] Comments on National Service in the Royal Navy; studying at Crail in Scotland and London University, learning naval Russian; feelings about doing national service; entry to navy after his knowledge of classical languages was spotted, and his Uncle was a naval captain; possibility of seeing active service in Suez crisis; anecdotes about naval training aboard warships; intention that he would go into intelligence work; anecdote about exercise enemy never being the Russians. [08:03] Remarks on return to Oxford: course on probability and statistics, early interest after reading 'Mathematics for the Million' by Lancelot Hogben; certificate in statistics his only scientific qualification. [10:00] Further remarks on national service: other recruits, such as Peter Oppenheimer, later meeting up at Frinton society; well treated in national service; anecdote about a colleague who was slow in drill; TH enjoying experience; advantages of being an officer cadet; benefits of experience, learning Russian, naval culture, reserve training; naval life, similarity to boarding school. [14:30] Remarks on: life at language course at Crail in Scotland; considering a computing job for United Steel before returning to study statistics; TH meeting cybernetician Stafford Beer in 1950s; TH visiting LEO computers and considering a computing career; TH led to computing from interest in logic and philosophy, reading Bertrand Russell's 'Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits''' and the 'Principles of Mathematics', and works of [CEM] Joad, artificial intelligence. [19:45] Description of using Ferranti Mercury, suing Tony Brooker's Autocode. [22:00] Remarks on statistic course: hand computing element; probability theory; statistical significance tests; studying in biometry unit; teachers Scot, Norman Bailey; enjoyment of being a graduate student; workload; reading game theory on the side; weekly activities, dummy exam papers, lectures, practical calculating claasses; [28:00] limited numbers of calculators and comptometers; course colleagues, Michael Bulmer, few women on course; differences between being a postgraduate and undergraduate; arithmetic skills. [31:30] Remarks on: limited thoughts of what to do after course; gaining a distinction; noticing an advert for British Council exchange studentship to Moscow; British Council interview; TH attracted by studying improbability theory in department of mathematician Kolmogorov; attractions to philosophical implications of probability, with examples from gambling; [36:33] [mic crackle] aspects of the beauty of probability; TH attraction to maths itself more than its applications; anecdote about at exploring the birthday paradox whilst at school; offer of an operational research job by Stafford beer. [39:45] Remarks on Stafford Beer: enthusiastic; ideas on automating a steel mill; differences with TH's view on computer and human judgements; difficulties of programming management problems; early optimism about computer capabilities. [42:30] Remarks on: anecdote about being offered a job at the NPL on machine translation; TH introduction to machine translation whilst in Russia, reading early works of Noam Chomsky, realising difficulties involved; NPL interview by Donald Davies, problems involving seniority of grades leading to him turning job down; anecdote about TH's wife meeting Donald Davies at a party later; meeting wife when he got a job in Elliott Brothers. Story about Uncle arranging him a job translating for Elliott Brothers at an exhibition in Russia, TH returning to Europe with Elliotts' and being offered a job.
Interview with computer scientist Sir Tony Hoare.