How time flies: 50 years of digital imaging

The first digital image made on a computer in 1957 showed researcher Russell Kirsch's baby son.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The next time you download snapshots from your digital camera to your computer, you might think to give thanks to Russell Kirsch of the National Bureaus of Standards, now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST. It was 50 years ago this spring that Kirsch thought of a way to digitize photographs and put them on a computer.

Kirsch and his colleagues, who had just created the country's first programmable computer ' the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) ' built a rotating drum scanner and wrote a program to feed the scanned image into the computer. 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 photograph wasn't exactly high-resolution, measuring only 176 pixels by 176 pixels, but it started something big.

Kirsch is still in the business of using computers on images. He and his wife, Joan, use computers to analyze paintings.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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