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Work at IBM: randomness - background


Early computers
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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One must understand how early in computers this was. When I went to IBM I didn't think I would stay there for 35 years. I thought it was for the summer. At the end of the summer I resigned from France and stayed there. I was told by somebody here that something very brilliant called Fortran was being developed and would I please bring some Fortran manuals because one couldn't get hold of them. Well, after a year at IBM Research I realised that a few people knew Fortran, but by no means everybody, and when I started to do my first work I asked to have a programmer assigned to my project - that was about the distribution of income, I'll come to it momentarily. That man did not know Fortran. He wrote everything in assembly language with a computer that was soon obsolete. It was an extraordinarily tedious job. Clearly this was not being done anywhere else. Motivation was very difficult to discern. Much later - I'm just trying to establish these links - I came back home to pictures, to geometry, and I asked another of my programmers - by then I had a programmer myself - to do something to represent a certain structure. Well the best program available had a capacity of 64. Not 64 mega or mille or kilos " 64, after 64, let's say, symbols - it stopped. You had to push return and go on. Therefore I was given this chance of being present, not at the creation, but at the birth of these processes. Since I had a violent need of these calculations and drawings, I contributed to their development to some extent.

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) discovered his ability to think about mathematics in images while working with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and is famous for his work on fractal geometry - the maths of the shapes found in nature.

Listeners: Daniel Zajdenweber Bernard Sapoval

Daniel Zajdenweber is a Professor at the College of Economics, University of Paris.

Bernard Sapoval is Research Director at C.N.R.S. Since 1983 his work has focused on the physics of fractals and irregular systems and structures and properties in general. The main themes are the fractal structure of diffusion fronts, the concept of percolation in a gradient, random walks in a probability gradient as a method to calculate the threshold of percolation in two dimensions, the concept of intercalation and invasion noise, observed, for example, in the absorbance of a liquid in a porous substance, prediction of the fractal dimension of certain corrosion figures, the possibility of increasing sharpness in fuzzy images by a numerical analysis using the concept of percolation in a gradient, calculation of the way a fractal model will respond to external stimulus and the correspondence between the electrochemical response of an irregular electrode and the absorbance of a membrane of the same geometry.

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008