Dr. Arthur Porter (1910-2010), Acting Director for the Centre for Culture & Technology, University of Toronto (1967-68)

02Jan14
arthur-porter Dr. Arthur Porter

Dr. Arthur Porter of University of Toronto’s Industrial Engineering Department assumed the directorship of the Centre for Culture & Technology during McLuhan’s visiting professorship at Fordham University in 1968 and was responsible for securing the Coach House for the Centre. Porter provided this autobiographical account of himself:-

I was born in Ulverston, England, on December 8, 1910. While studying at the University of Manchester, I helped build a differential analyzer—one of the world’s first analogue computers. We used a Mecanno construction set.

In 1937, I accepted a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I helped build the Rockefeller differential analyser—the most ambitious analogue/digital computer built to date. It was used extensively for projects during the Second World War. I also co-developed the Porter-Stoneman converter system, automating the process of feeding data into the analyzer.

In 1949, I accepted a position with Ferranti Canada and worked on the DATAR system. DATAR combined data from a convoy of ships’ sensors, providing a single ‘overall view’ that allowed the commander to make better-informed decisions. Soon afterwards, in the early 1950s, I was one of six Canadians selected to work on Project Lamp Light. My data processing expertise was crucial to this top-secret North American air defence initiative.

In 1958, I became Dean of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. There, along with Norman Moody and Dr. William Feindel, I established Canada’s first biomedical research program. In 1962, I moved to the University of Toronto to chair their new Industrial engineering department—one of the first in the world. While there, I also helped establish the University’s biomedical program.

During the late 1960s, I was involved in projects that bridged the gap between culture and science. I was the first acting director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Culture and Technology. I also chaired the Science and Technology Advisory Committee when Montreal hosted the World’s Fair—Expo 67.

In 1969, I wrote Cybernetics Simplified—one of the first books to provide an overview of how computers work. I resigned from academic life in 1975 to Chair the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning. This report continues to influence Ontario’s renewable energy policies. Source: https://goo.gl/HAkvKa

*****

Marshall McLuhan wrote the Forward to Arthur Porter’s (1969). Cybernetics Simplified. New York: Barnes & Noble. Here is the opening paragraph:-
“This is a much needed book. It helps to build a bridge between ‘The Two Cultures’ whose separation plagues C.P. Snow and many others. The very word ‘cybernetics’ is a useful clue to the central meaning of the electronic revolution. The speed-up of information movement  creates an environment of ‘information overload’ that demands pattern recognition for human survival. It was natural therefore, for the first explorers of this field to use a term from navigation. In economics it has become natural to speak of the decision-making of tomorrow as taking place in a word economy. Instant access to and retrieval of information creates entirely new economic and political situations. The new information environment created by the new electric technologies is quite imperceptible and can only be discovered by special inventories of changing trends and changing human responses to the new environment.”  (p. v)
Photograph of Professors Arthur Porter and Marshall McLuhan, with artist René Cera, admiring Cera’s mural PIED PIPER ALL, Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, 1969. Photograph by Robert Lansdale
Professors Arthur Porter and Marshall McLuhan, with artist René Cera, admiring Cera’s mural “Pied Piper All,” the Centre for Culture & Technology, University of Toronto, 1969. Photograph by Robert Lansdale. Source: University of Toronto Archives/Robert Landsdale Photography Ltd. fonds/B1998-0033 [691172-12]
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