Technicalities

Newborn Technology: Three-month-old Walden Kirsch, looks out from the first digital photo.

Researcher R.B. Thomas operates the SEAC scanner used to produce the 5-centimeter-square photo.

DRUM ROLL. Russell Kirsch and his colleagues at the National Bureau of Standards, forerunner of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, already had one significant computing feat under their belts: They had developed the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer, the first programmable computer.

Then, 50 years ago this spring, Kirsch had another idea: To see whether computers could read and reproduce photographs. The team wrote a program for SEAC that allowed images to be fed to a drum scanner and created the first digital photograph.

The first image thus processed ' and this will be no surprise to any father ' was a picture of Kirsch's 3-month-old son, Walden. The black-and-white image wasn't exactly high-res, measuring only 176 pixels by 176 pixels (about 5 centimeters square), but it started something big.

All those photos, videos and movies zipping around the Internet at any given moment are direct descendants of Walden's image. Today, NIST says, Kirsch and his wife, Joan, use computers to analyze paintings. After a career as a TV news reporter, Walden works in communications at Intel.

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