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UTEC

In addition to providing a computing service, the Computation Centre designed and built a pilot model of an electronic computer which was called UTEC, for "University of Toronto Electronic Computer". This computer became operational in October 1951 at about the time I was completing the calculations referred to in the last section. I can recall attending a seminar given by Kelly Gotlieb who was the head of the Computation Centre. With his usual enthusiasm Kelly described the design and construction of the computer and then with great pride he waved in front of the audience a sheet of paper containing a small table of the exponential function which had been produced on UTEC. He said he realized that tables of the exponential function had been computed before, but, in reference to the fact that these were given to base 8, that they had probably never been printed in such a useless format. I can also recall Dr. Daniel B. Delury of the Ontario Research Foundation remarking in his usual droll manner that he understood that these newfangled computers were almost perfect and that if they ever made a mistake they would "take a vow or ring a bell".

The photograph shown here, downloaded with permission from the University of Toronto Archives, shows UTEC as it was in about 1950 with three of its principal developers: from left to right, Robert Johnston, Joseph Kates and Leonard Casciato. It appears in the University of Toronto Commemorative Calendar for February 2003.

As an aid in doing octal arithmetic the Computation Centre had an octal desk calculator. If an unsuspecting student asked for a desk calculator, he or she would often be offered the use of this one first and then only later after the absence of the "eight" and "nine" keys was noted would be offered a conventional one. I can still rememember my astonishment, and the amusement of the staff, when this trick was played on me.

The completion of the pilot model of UTEC was announced in the Globe and Mail on December 15, 1951 in an article headed "Junior Brain cost $100,000". The article gives an interesting glimpse of how the computer was reported in the media then, and we give the first three paragrphs here:

UTEC, Jr., says two and two are 100, and this sort of calculation promises to draw mathematical problems from all over Canada to the University of Toronto computation centre. UTEC stands for University of Toronto Electronic Computor. The "junior" tag is because the present 1,100-tube machine is only the forerunner of a much bigger computer.

The next, though probably not the final, instrument will cost $300,000 put up by the National Research Council. And, like UTEC Jr. it will make 100 out of two plus two.

The reason for this seemingly odd system of mathematics is that the machines are calibrated to recognize only one digit and zero. Thus the figure three would be rendered as 11 by UTEC. And UTEC Jr. isn't a thinking machine. The thinking - and very heavy thinking it is - is all done before the data is fed into UTEC. Of course, the computer needs half an hour to warm up, and consumes as much electricity as a kitchen stove in the process.

A later paragraph in the same article is of interest as it mentions some of the persons involved in the design and construction of UTEC:

The computing centre provides the answers under the direction of a 17-man (and woman) team headed by Dr. C. C. Gotlieb, Dr. Joseph Kates, Dr. James Chung, Dr. Harvey Gellman, and Dr. Alfred Ratz. Drs. Kates and Ratz are the electronics experts; Drs. Gotlieb, Chung and Gellman are mathematicians. Dr. Gotlieb, acting director of the centre, did some physical research on the proximity fuse in England during the last war. He's only 30 years of age, incidentally.

A full-scale model of UTEC was never built as funding from the granting agencies was withdrawn and the money used to purchase a computer from Ferranti Ltd., an electrical and electronics firm in Manchester.

Michael Williams has written an excellent account of the early years of the Computation Centre at the University of Toronto. A discussion of UTEC and the Ferranti computer may also be found in an excerpt from Chapter 28 of The University of Toronto. A History. Kelly Gotlieb and Pat Hume give a brief discussion of the design of UTEC in their High-Speed Data Processing published in 1958.


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