Timeline of Systematic Data and the Development of Computable Knowledge

How civilization has systematized more and more areas of knowledge, collected the data associated with them and made them amenable to automation and computation
Timeline of Systematic Data and the Development of Computable Knowledge: 1900 - 1959


1900: National Physical Laboratory; National Bureau of Standards

Using physics to create standards

NPL in the UK and NBS in the US are founded to make measurements and standards using methods from physics.

1907: Chemical Abstracts

Volunteers contribute abstracts to the first issue of Chemical Abstracts published in the US; this system is in place through the 1960s.

1906: FDA

Controlling foods & drugs

The Pure Food and Drug Act effectively founds the US Food & Drug Administration.


1910: Principia Mathematica

Whitehead and Russell attempt to present mathematics formalized in terms of logic.

1913: Al Elias

Bringing statistics to sports

The Al Munro Elias Bureau starts producing scorecards and statistics on baseball.

1910: Mundaneum

Collecting the world's knowledge on index cards

Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine collected twelve million index cards of information, planning to create a world center for answering factual questions.

1913: Chemical Rubber Company

CRC publishes the first edition of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.


1921: Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

Frank and Lillian ("Cheaper by the Dozen") Gilbreth introduce flow charts as a way to represent processes.

1926: US Code

The US Congress initiates systematic codification of US laws.


1930s: Ronald Fisher

Putting mathematics into statistics

Ronald Fisher and others lay the foundations for modern statistics.

1936: Alan Turing

The concept of universal computation

Turing shows that any reasonable computation can be done by programming a fixed universal machine—and then speculated that such a machine could emulate the brain.

1931: CIE Color Space

Standardizing color

The International Commission on Illumination (CIE) introduces XYZ perceptual color space.

1936: Social Security Administration

Numbering every American

Under FDR's New Deal Social Security program, the first Social Security numbers are issued.

1932: Arthur C. Nielsen

Measuring markets for products

The AC Nielsen Company creates a "retail index" for tracking the flow of food and drug purchases.

1937: World Congress on Universal Documentation

H.G. Wells presents his vision for a "World Brain".

1935: George Gallup

Measuring public opinion

George Gallup founds the American Institute of Public Opinion and begins collecting opinion polls.

1939: US Geological Survey

Photographically recording a country

The USGS begins collecting aerial photos of the US.

1935: Lambda Calculus

Alonzo Church introduces lambda calculus as an algebra-style notations for computations.


1940s: Airport Codes

Official three-character airport codes come into use.

1945: Vannevar Bush

The concept of a computerized encyclopedia

Bush speculates on the idea of a "memex" device that will provide computerized access to the world's knowledge.

1940s: Digital Computers

Automating the process of computation

The arrival of digital electronic computers provides the mechanism by which computations of all kinds can be automated with increasing efficiency.

1946: IUPAC Notation

A standard name for every chemical

Malcolm Dyson invents the IUPAC system for naming chemicals.

1942: Chester Carlson

Chester Carlson patents the photocopier, and in 1949 the "Xerox Model A" photocopier begins production.

1947: Minor Planet Center

Recording the asteroids

The Minor Planet Center is founded to collect all reports of new asteroids and comets.

1942: New York Times Bestseller List

The New York Times introduces an index of book popularity.


1950: Jules Charney and John von Neumann

Computing the weather

The first serious weather simulation is run on the ENIAC computer.

1954: Guinness Book of Records

Norris and Ross McWhirter create the first Guinness Book of Records.

1950s: Computational Linguistics

Algorithms for human language

Computational linguistics puts the concepts of grammar into an algorithmic form that promises to automate processes of language understanding.

1954: SI Units

Standard units of measure for everything

The SI (metre, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, candela) system of units is defined.

1950—1960s: Artificial Intelligence

Making computers intelligent

Artificial Intelligence defines a research program for developing computers that show general intelligence which leads to many spinoffs important for specific purposes.

1957: Arthur Rosenfeld

Organizing the elementary particles

Arthur Rosenfeld assembles a table of all known elementary particles.

1950—1960s: Pop-Culture Computers

Imagining intelligent machines

From the Tracy and Hepburn movie Desk Set to TV's Batman and Star Trek to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the robots of Isaac Asimov, the public becomes used to the idea that computers will eventually have human-like knowledge and reasoning.

1957: Computer Languages

Languages for programming tasks

Fortran, COBOL, and other early computer languages defines the concept of a precise formal representation for tasks to be performed by computers.

1953: DNA Structure

Digital data for all life

James Watson and Francis Crick discover that DNA contains a digital genetic code.

SEE ALSO: Stephen Wolfram's Blog Post: The Advance of the Data Civilization: A Timeline »