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Krawtchouk's Mind 260

A reader writes: "Central Europe Review is running an article on a gulag-condemned Soviet scientist whose contribution to the first computer is virtually unknown because of the Cold War mentality that infected much of society on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The story tells of how in 1937, American digital computer pioneer John Atanasoff came across a Myhailo Krawtchouk paper on a new method for finding approximate solutions to differential equations. Atanasoff tried sending a letter to him, but received no response. Krawtchouk had been attainted for giving a favorable review of the work of "enemies of the people" and shipped to Siberia for 20 years of gold mining, where he died four years later. Krawtchouk's biography gives a more detailed account of how Krawtchouk was labeled a "Polish spy" and "Ukrainian nationalist," stripped of his Academy of Sciences membership, and forced to sign a confession -- that he later retracted -- under torture and threats upon his family. "
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Krawtchouk's Mind

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  • First Computer? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by archetypeone ( 599370 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:34AM (#5824218) Homepage
    What about Colossus [bletchleypark.org.uk]?
  • Actually... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LeoDV ( 653216 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:41AM (#5824257) Journal
    I think the first computer was invented in 1936 by a German scientist, Konrad Zuse, who later had to flee to Switzerland because of the war... At least that't About.com claims [about.com].

    You know, it's really funny how things can be invented in several places at the same time... Like the modern guitar as we know it was come up with in China, the Middle East and Spain at the exact same times (and not chronologically, implying that the invention would have traveled)... Or how Pythagores, Zarathustra, Buddha and Lao-Tse, who each pioneered philosophy in their own continent, were contemporaries.
  • Geek Persecution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArmenTanzarian ( 210418 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:42AM (#5824258) Homepage Journal
    This isn't really even a communist thing. Geek persecution on both sides of the wall was rough. I mean, where's Alan Turing?
  • building bridges (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dollargonzo ( 519030 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:50AM (#5824305) Homepage
    the soviets really have a bad history of blocking science from progressing in fear of spies / enemies of the ppl, etc. one of the greatest examples is a man who wanted to build a bridge. before he could start working out all the details, he order a catalog of all the ships in the world, so he could know exactly which ones might be passing under his bridge. the catalog is manufcatured outside of the iron curtain...when he received it, the pages with the russian vessels were torn out at the border.

    this is just beyond stupidity. so, apparently, the entire world can know the dimensions of soviet vessels, but not the soviets??
  • In Soviet Russia.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:54AM (#5824322)
    .. he was sent to Siberia..
    .. in the US it is enough with a Cease and Desist letter to stem reaserch..
    .. the capitalists found a cheaper way than the communists..
  • Re:building bridges (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LizardKing ( 5245 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:06AM (#5824409)

    the entire world can know the dimensions of soviet vessels, but not the soviets

    It got worse than that - in fact the truth seems more like a Kafka novel at times. I can't remember the book I read about Soviet industrial and scientific cock ups, but some of the more absurd epsisodes have stuck in my mind.

    An attempt was made to build a permanent railroad across the Northern expanse of Siberia. Despite the protestations of engineers that building it without firm pilings and at the wrong time of year was foolhardy, the project went ahead. Unsuitable labour was used, in the form of ill-equipped and inexperienced gulag inmates. Track was lain during harsh Winter conditions. And of course, come the thaw, the lines buckled, embankments collapsed and trains toppled over. Their are still rusting remains of trains and track littering the region.

    Stalin was quite prepared to listen to crackpots and cranks, often promoting them to high academic positions. Genuine academics were either too frightened to speak out against Stalin's favourites, or sent to gulags for disagreeing with lunatic theories. Similarly, several of the Soviet Unions leading aircraft designers spent the Second World War working in prison having falling out of favour with Stalin.


  • by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:13AM (#5824458) Homepage Journal
    This issue has come up in the Computational Complexity course I am taking.

    In particular the Cook-Levin Theorem wah proved simultaneously by Steve Cook in the US and Lenoid Levin in the USSR.

    Additionally the Immerman-Szelepcsenyi Theorem was proven by Neil Immerman (US) and Richard Szelepcsenyi (Slovakia).

    Neither were known for some time due to the lack of communication on both sides.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:29AM (#5824561)
    Krawtchouk's woes can't be attributed to "the Cold War mentality that infected much of society on both sides of the Iron Curtain...".

    His obscurity, yes. But not his abuse by the Soviet Union. Hemos' casual paraphrasing of one line in the Reviews' piece serves to apportion responsibility for the Cold War equally among the Soviets and the U.S. This is wrong. Soviet totalitarianism was responsible for both Krawtchouk's abuse and his obscurity, while Soviet military occupation of one-half of Europe, the imposition of Soviet totalitarianism there and an expressed intent to eliminate democratic governments elsewhere were the causes of the Cold War.

    Some revisionist historians -- who always seem to me to be embarrassed by democracy -- will disagree, but can they truthfully imagine the Cold War happening if the Soviet Union had been a free and democratic nation with no expansionist aims?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:44AM (#5824666)
    I'd like to hear what Hemos has to say, the editorial integrity issues need to be addressed.
  • by pmc ( 40532 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:21AM (#5824937) Homepage
    Colossus was a Turing machine, just. It had the (rough) equivalent of "computed goto" where the result of an operation could determine what instruction was executed next, which is enough.

    This, its "Turingness", came about almost by accident - in breaking the Lorenz codes it ran a computation step where it worked out some property of captured cipher text against generated enciphering text. This produced a potential deciphered text, which an operater would look at to see if it made sense. The second generation machine was designed to calculate some statistical properties of the text, which could tell resonably well if it had been broken properly. It was when they were building the capability of doing this that the computed goto snuck in (which gave them the ability to do conditional branching), and the equivalent of "if Text looks like German then Stop".

    After the war the runners of the machine tried to program it to do base 10 arithmetic, but clock speed was against them, so it never quite worked (not that they spent a lot of time on it as shortly after the war almost all the colossi were scrapped).

    It was an odd machine - extremely fast at what it was built to do, with the bonus that it could do anything (given enough vacuum tubes!). Different to the ABC and Zuse machines in that these were non-Turing machines (I think that's true of the Atanasoft-Berry machine too - having looked at the information available it doesn't seem Turing complete, but it is fairly sketchy).

  • by jgalun ( 8930 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:31AM (#5825045) Homepage
    Yeah, but the problem is that Marxism as a theory does not explain AT ALL how it should be put into practice. And the ONLY way it has been put into practice is, well, what you saw in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia, etc.

    If people were walking around with German SPD t-shirts (supporting socialist economics) - hey, that's cool with me. But communism has only existed as horrible dictatorial regimes. It has no existence other than as horrible dictatorial regimes.

    This is not the fault of the "sheepish west" confusing some pure theory with the practice. This is the intelligent west understanding that the theory only exists in someone's mind as a utopia that cannot be put into practice, and what actually can be put into practice is horrible. That's not sheepish. That's perceptive.
  • Fuck Soviet Russia! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @12:36PM (#5825594)
    Here in the civilized UK, we don't send our genious mathematicians to the Gulag!

    We honor them for winning the war for us with free hormone therapy [alanturing.net]!

    Hey, weren't we fighting the NAZIs because they behaved like that?!!!

  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @01:10PM (#5825862)
    Wilhelm Reich, a student of Freud's, died in an American prison. He was put there due to his research into energy forms. The government also burned his research!

    Plenty of American scientists have been persecuted for political reasons, including Oppenheimer, as well as many lesser known ones. Despite being an American, I find it hypocritical that people find a desire to bash the USSR for things the US did as well. Like decry people killed in the early days of the USSR when the US wiped out most of the Indians here, as well as however many Africans were dumped overboard after being packed in like sardines on slave ships. Or remember persecuted scientists in the Soviet Union, when there were persecuted scientists in the United States. I think it would be better to focus on people in Kansas and wherever else in the US that want to burn biology books and replace them with the book of Genesis. Americans have been brainwashed by anti-Bolshevist propaganda since 1917, and had ugly incidents from their past like the Bonus March absent from the history books (except history books like A People's History of the United States), or even incidents of working class power and solidarity (like the San Francisco general strike). I'm not a Marxist-Leninist by any means, but this tendency among the right to try to revive the USSR from the dead to bash it again while trying to whitewash the American ruling classes history is lame, and I don't feel it serves working class Americans like myself.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.