History of Computer in ISI

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was the pioneer to think over the use of computers to get calculation work in a fast and accurate manner. Even before the first electronic ‘computer’ was imported and installed at ISI in 1955, ISI had few workers designated as ‘computers’ during 1930s. They were the ‘statistical staff’ members for calculation and tabulation work of large scale sample surveys conducted by PCM, the pioneer statistician.


The first Electronic Analogue Computer
in India designed and built by ISI

In ISI in about a decade’s time the infrastructure and language of statistics and computing went through a revolutionary change. A group of enthusiastic young men under the leadership of Prasanta Chandra came forward in an informal way to carry forward the dream. They were Sudhir Kumar Banerjee, Jaladhar Sarma, Sailendra Chandra Das Roy, Haripada Ghosh, Subodh Chandra Das Gupta, Nimai Charan Ghose, S. Raja Rao, Sambhu Nath Halder, Arun Kumar Ganguli, Suresh Chandra Sarkhel, Shyamsundar Bose, Jitendra Nath Taluqdar, Harbhajan Chaudhuri, Dhirendra Chandra Sarker, Sunit Kumar Gupta, Nirmal Banerjee, Rajen Roy, Bimal Kumar Bhattacharyya, Bistu Pada Paul and others were looked the computing works apart from  their other scientific or  general charge of the work.

The computational work was steadily mechanized with punched card machines. The need of high speed computations led to the establishment of the Electronics Laboratory on an experimental scale in 1950. Gradually a good workshop was built up which took over the servicing and repair work of all desk calculators in the Institute. Besides routine repair and servicing work the workshop continued the developmental work on the manufacture of manual calculating machines. The numerous press tools necessary for the manufacture of such machines were constructed and components for a proto-type machine were fabricated.

There were considerable activities and changes during the year 1951-52 under the section Machine Tabulation Section. Besides a number of B.T.M. (Hollerith) machines few I.B.M. machines (of which one has got alphabetical feature) were installed. Incidentally, this is the first installation of I.B.M. machines in India. The expansion of the Machine Unit, a new unit of this section was followed by the Technical Unit, constituted during this year to check up the work done in the Punching Unit as well as the Machine Unit for maintaining statements and charts of quality control. The work of this section covered the following projects; (i) National Sample Surveys, 1 st -4 th round; (ii) model sampling experiments in connection with crop surveys; (iii) special studies in crop-cutting surveys; (iv) serial correlation studies; (v) analysis of some anthropometrical data of Bengal; (vi) sampling studies on 1941-Census slips of Hazaribagh district; (vii) U.N. and Government of India population survey of Mysore; (viii) special crop acreage survey, December 1951; (ix) analysis of data for sample survey of cinchona; (x) sample survey of refugees in West Bengal; (xi) sample survey of manufacturing industries. Some commercial jobs were also accepted on a small scale, particularly in Insurance-accounts. Side by side, the workshop was also engaged in (i) repair and maintenance of desk-calculators, (ii) designing and fabrication of a new desk calculators, (iii) construction of implements and gadgets for use in the Institute and (vi) repair and maintenance work of a general nature. (ISI Annual Report 1952-53)

Electronic Computer Division

One of the important activities of the Laboratory was the construction of the first electrical analogue computing machine for solving linear equations with ten variables. The machine was based on an iteration method of solving linear equations; and can gave the value of the largest latent root of the matrix. It led to the creation of an Electronic Computer Division.

Samarendra Kumar Mitra, who went abroad with a UNESCO fellowship to study electronic computers, started the Unit in 1950 with the help of a part-time technician. Later he was assisted by Debdas Chaudhuri, Amaresh Ray, Ashis Sen, Ajoy Sen, Mrinal Kanti Pal, Prabhat Kumar Mitra, D. S. Kamat, Dwijesh Dutta Majumder, Jnan Saran Chatterjee, and Soumyendra Mohon Bose.    




Prof. Mahalanobis was one of the very few persons in India to recognize the importance of computer technology. In 1950 he planned to purchase Hollerith Computer. In August 1950, he met Watson Sr. IBM President and talked about MARK-I automatic high speed calculator. A small electronic digital computer called HEC-2M (Hollerith Electronic Digital Computer-2M) produced by the British Tabulating Machines Works, Letchworth had been ordered in 1954. Monimohan Mookerji and Amaresh Roy completed their training in the British Tabulating Machines Works at Letchworth and visited different computing machine laboratories in Europe and returned to India early in 1956. The HEC-2M was received in February 1956 and installed by them in about a month in an AC room situated on the ground floor of the Institute building and it was ready for operation by the end of March 1956. This was the first electronic computer to be installed in India and the Indian Statistical Institute was the first to turn out trained programmers.

URAL: During 1955 the USSR Government had offered the Institute a big electronic digital computer called URAL through the UNTAA (United Nations Technical Aid Administration). Samarendra Kumar Mitra and D.S. Kamat



were deputed to the USSR in September 1955 by the UNTAA on a special fellowship, to make a technical report on URAL. They visited Moscow, Penza and other places and gathered experiences concerned with computing machinery. The URAL computer was received in March 1958 and installed on 20 December 1958 in the institute for processing of statistical data by the Soviet engineers who handed over it to the Institute for use in February 1959. Mr. Touri Diatlov , Mr. Dimitri Loohtehinine , Mr. Alexandre Loginov , Mr. Boris Komarov , Mr. Ashraf Akhmed Zianov were in that team.

Workers like Reba Bhattashali, Ashish Maity, Deb Kumar Bose, Ajit Halder, Amal Roy comprised the first batch to master the user-unfriendly art of binary machine language programming. BTM did not provide any manuals except a circuit diagram and measured voltage-values at chosen nodes. Amaresh Roy and Mohi Mukherjee arranged in-house learning sessions and soon made in-house manuals and programmers started inventing their own tricks, for instance, programs for floating point arithmetic.

ISIJU-I: In the next phase a joint project was initiated by the Institute in collaboration with



the Jadavpur University, Calcutta for the design and construction of two solid-state electronic digital computers of which each institution would have one, while the benefits were to be shared equally. In this case the Indian Statistical Institute was prepared to bear more than half of the costs. Joint executive committee for this project comprising of the Registrar, the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and the Professor-in-charge of Telecommunications Engineering of the Jadavpur University, and the Joint Director and Head of the Electronic Division, Indian Statistical Institute had been set up. These machines were of character based, having a syllable structure instead of a word structure like the HEC-2M and the URAL installed in the Institute. A machine of this type opened up the possibility of investigation about mechanical translation from one language to another that would be adaptable to automatic programming using a universal programming language such as the ‘ ALGOL ’. The logical design of the machines was started in October, 1961 and it was almost completed by March, 1962. Expert assistance was obtained through the UNTAA which provided the service of Prof. N C Metropolis , Director, Institute for Computer Research, University of Chicago, and Dr. S Y Wong , Philco Corporation, USA for five weeks. This Project reached its final phase during the year 1964-1965. Mr. R A Aschenbrenner , Associate Computer Engineer, Argonne National Laboratory, USA came as an UN expert on Electric Engineering and worked in the ISIJU Computer Project from 18 December 1964 to 29 May 1965 as a Circuit Designer and designed the control circuit of the Magnetic Drum Auxiliary Memory. The input-output equipment for the computer was far away from expectation as the card reader and line printer could not be obtained as a gift from the United Nations. Instead the computer had the cheapest and barest input-output equipment like a paper tape reader and a punch paper tape which however was backed by an auxiliary storage in the form of a magnetic drum with about 60,000 characters of storage. The computer was started to work in the middle of 1965. The computer was christened as ISIJU-I. This was the first solid state computer built in India.

The ISIJU-1 digital computer was formally commissioned by Shri M C Chagla , Union Minister of Education, on 2 April 1966. The Computer’s projected data link could not be operated continuously for lack of certain facilities and serious fluctuation in the voltage of electric current.

Computation service in ISI consisted mostly of programming service for the IBM 1401 Electronic Data Processing Machine. Some fundamental research on network analysis was completed, leading to a mathematical deduction of the fundamental Kirchhoff’s Laws in its true natural form.

In 1962 the Three Months’ Evening Course on Punched Card Systems at Calcutta was a new course organized by the Data Processing Unit of the Research and Training School for imparting training in efficient programming and the operation of tabulating and computing machines. The Computer Science Unit was formed to take up teaching and research in the field of electronic computer-logic, software and applicants. In all degree and other courses in statistics at the Institute, the use of computers in statistical computations became compulsory subject of study.

Digital Communication Technique scheme was started in 1972 to assist the main scheme of pattern recognition in speech research problems, comprising (a) theoretical work on coding theory, switching theory and digital filtering theory, and (b) experimental work on digital filtering, speech synthesis and analysis in the Computing Machines and Electronics Laboratory. A digital communication laboratory was planned to be established during the Fifth Plan Period.

Installation of a new computer, EC-1033 , a third generation computer at the Institute was done.  An agreement for the supply, installation, commissioning and servicing of the computer system had been made with the Electronics Trade and Technology Development Corporation Ltd. (a Government of India undertaking), New Delhi

EC-1033 Computer System from USSR installed during January-February 1979 had a 256 KB memory with multi-programming facility and two card-readers, four tape-drivers, four disk drivers, two high-speed printers and four terminals as the supporting peripherals.

The Course on Operation of Punched Card Machines was renamed Course on Operation of Automatic Data Processing Equipment .in 1980. In Computer science the development of Microcomputer system with memory capacity 24K bytes has been developed around a 6800 Microprocessor chip.

In 1987 a Nodal Centre for a Fifth Generation Knowledge-Based Computer Systems (FGCS/KBCS) in the fields of Pattern Recognition, Computer Vision, Image Processing and Artificial Intelligence has been established in the Institute with all financial support coming from the Department of Electronics. Prof. D Dutta Majumder was the co-ordinator for this Centre.

The Computer and Statistical Service Centre (CSSC) set up by Dr. J K Ghosh in 1988, was equipped with VAX 8650 system of Digital Equipment Corporation, USA. A Technical Group (TG) to examine technical matters relating to the Centre and a Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) to formulate overall policy regarding the utilization of the services of the CSSC were constituted. Dr. J Roy , Chairman of the TG was in charge of administration of the CSSC.

Some work done in Electronics and Communications Sciences Unit attracted wide attention. In 1991 a speech synthesizer for Bengali named Bangabani was developed by Prof. Ashok Dutta and associates and this was the first complete speech synthesis system in any given language. A related achievement was a system, called Surobitan, for automatic musical transcription for vocal songs. Computer based Natural Language processing was started for Bengali by Prof. B B Chaudhuri and his team probably for the first time in India. Later in 1992, a completely new time-domain approach for synthesis of singing was developed by the speech and music group of the Electronics and Communication Sciences Unit.

The Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit (CVPR) was formed in November 1994 to carry out research work in the field of Computer Vision, Pattern Recognition and Knowledge Based Computer Systems and to collaborate with industry in the area of Computer Science.

During 1996, a landmark development of the CVPR unit was a Computer based dictionary in the Indian Language (Bangla) which may be used by the blind persons as well. A novel highly structured 3 layered basic network called X-tron has been developed by the MIU with supervised and under supervised learning algorithm for mixed category perception.

Internet connection for research work was installed at Calcutta and Delhi centre of the Institute in 1997.

In 1998 the Bangla Script Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems built by CVPR Unit can read Bangla books published by publishing houses. Researches have been carried out on the development of Devnagari (Hindi) OCR system by CVPR unit, on Artificial Neural Models and Image Compression Techniques by MIU, on Remote Sensing and Data Analysis in Atmospheric Science etc. to mention a few. The transfer of technology of OCR system in Bengali and Devnagari , developed by the CVPR unit has been transferred to CDAC, Pune in 2000.

The Center for Soft Computing Research : a National Facility was formally started in October 2005. It was inaugurated by Professor M G K Menon , President ISI. Later in 2010 this Center became an Associate Institution of ISI in 2010.

During its long journey, ISI experienced problems when the computer often could not be operated continuously for lack of certain facilities, serious technical faults, lack of funds etc. Yet researches in this area is still going on in different Units of Computer & Communication Sciences Division, ISI with new novelties.