Núria Castell, dean of the Barcelona School of Informatics

The Barcelona School of Informatics (FIB) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017. We’ve organised a series of activities that we wish to share with everyone, and particularly with the great community that surrounds our School and our university, students, professors, management staff, graduates and friends in general. The FIB has the pleasure of presenting one of these activities, the historical exhibition Computation: From the Abacus to the PC, which will be held from 8 to 27 May in the L'Illa Diagonal shopping centre and from 29 May to 29 June at the UPC’s Rector Gabriel Ferraté Library. With these locations, we seek to bring the FIB and the exhibition closer to both the general public and our community.

In addition to the university teaching and research that we carry out at the FIB, in recent years we have sought to share with Catalan society the advances and changes that are a staple of information technologies and our thoughts on a historical view of our discipline. To this end we’ve organised talks, round tables, several exhibitions and the FIB Museum, which has been visited by thousands of students over the last few years. The historical exhibition that we’re now presenting builds on the content of past FIB exhibitions, but it focuses on examples of devices and objects that predate modern computer technology and that conditioned the design of the first computers. In addition to these precursor technologies, which show how people counted, calculated, and so on until just a few decades ago, we’ve completed the exhibition with memorabilia related to the first giant computers and some of the first personal computers, which popularised computer technology.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the work of a large number of people and several institutions that have wished to contribute to its preparation. Previous versions of the exhibition were organised in conjunction with the University of La Rioja and the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), and we have been able to take advantage of much of the work carried out and the infrastructure needed. At the UPC, in addition to the FIB’s staff, the Libraries, Publications and Archives Service, with the support of the Language and Terminology Service, has been particularly involved in the exhibition. We are sincerely grateful to all those involved.

To conclude, I wish to thank the exhibition’s curator, our professor Joan Antoni Pastor Collado, for his work. He classified and documented the materials exhibited and combined pieces selected from the FIB Museum with his own and those of other collectors.

Núria Castell Ariño
Dean of the Barcelona School of Informatics
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

Barcelona, May 2017


Joan Antoni Pastor, exhibition's curator

Informatics, or computing, is one of the youngest academic and professional disciplines. If we count from the appearance of the first electronic computers, its history spans just eighty years. Compared to the centuries or millennia of experience accumulated in most sciences and fields of engineering, this history is very short, though certainly very intense.

In fact, since its inception, as well as being a young discipline, computing has developed in a way that reflects its youthful spirit. Its evolution has been characterised by constant invention, innovation and renewal in products, systems, methods, services and computing paradigms. Now we have social phenomena like smartphones, tablets, apps, the cloud, virtual reality, social media, online gaming and 3-D printing. And it was not so long ago that the emergent phenomena were the web, e-business and e-commerce, dot-coms, laptops, gaming consoles, and so on – advances that themselves succeeded the advent of the internet, PCs, arcade games, and other developments.

For decades, it’s been common to hear people say things like “Computing is the profession of the future”, or even “Computing is the future!” And our discipline has undeniably had a far-reaching and highly visible impact on contemporary life at every level. Our world is increasingly digital, global and automated thanks mainly to information and communication technology. We’re moving ahead so fast and so far that it’s not surprising we sometimes experience a kind of social vertigo when we contemplate the possible consequences of this progress.

We start to doubt the desirability and sustainability of automating certain processes, or feel uneasy, even fearful, about certain electronic monitoring and control practices that we now know some governments and multinationals engage in. As good computing professionals, we want to contribute to building a future that’s more democratic, equitable and just. We also have a duty to fight against other, more dystopian futures – to ensure that our technologies are used for the common good rather than the benefit of a few powerful individuals.

In the middle of this short but fast-paced history, from time to time it’s worth pausing to look back. Learning about and understanding the circumstances, vicissitudes and technologies that shaped the experience of our predecessors helps us take advantage of opportunities and avoid pitfalls as we build a better future for everyone. This is why in recent years, alone or in collaboration with other institutions, the Barcelona School of Informatics (FIB) has sought to celebrate the passing of time, our own time and history, and reflect on this journey.

We’ve done this by marking the anniversaries of some significant events, of which there have been quite a few lately. Some have been linked to individuals we recognise as visionaries in our field: the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in 2012, the bicentenary of the birth of Ada Lovelace in 2015, and the septcentenary of the death of our patron, Ramon Llull, in 2016. To mark these occasions, we organised and participated in various talks and exhibitions, including a series of eight round tables in 2013-14 on topics related to the history of computing in Catalonia and Spain.

Particularly noteworthy for the engagement and visibility they generate are a series of exhibitions on retro computer technology, presented in Catalan shopping centres and town halls, and our collaborations with CosmoCaixa. Finally, having seen how curious people are about the history of computer technology, in 2010 we decided to establish the FIB Museum, which has attracted thousands of students, professors and other visitors since it opened.

In 2017, the Barcelona School of Informatics is turning 40 and we want to celebrate this occasion too. In addition to taking advantage of annual events such as the FIB party and Festibity (an ICT professional festival) to highlight the fact that we’ve now been “Creating Talent” for four decades, we’ve organised a film forum on “Computer Science and Science Fiction” and a series of talks on the “Present, Past and Future of…” various computer technologies, including programming languages, operating systems, databases, computer networks and more.

We’ve also updated a special FIB website devoted to a select group of pioneering women who made a significant contribution to the advancement of computing and telecommunications. The site now includes two new entries, for Barbara Liskov, awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the UPC in 2012 at the proposal of the FIB, and Margaret Hamilton, to whom we hope to pay a similar tribute in the near future. The full programme of activities to mark the 40th anniversary of the FIB can be viewed by clicking on the link below. Additional content and links will be added as activities develop:

We love exhibitions, and the special events we’ve organised include one entitled Computation: From the Abacus to the PC. The show, which is the focus of this catalogue and web space, will be presented at L'Illa Diagonal shopping centre in May and at the Rector Gabriel Ferraté Library in June. This historical exhibition seeks to build on and complement the content of previous FIB exhibitions. It revolves around technologies, devices and objects that predate modern computer technology. In addition to these precursor technologies, we’ve included some objects related to the first giant computers, sometimes described as “electronic brains”, and the earliest PCs.

Many people from various institutions have offered their assistance and contributed to preparing this show. As the curator of the exhibition, I’d like to sincerely thank them for all they’ve done: at the UPC, my colleagues at the FIB, inLabFIB, the Libraries, Publications and Archives Service, the Language and Terminology Service and Iniciativa Digital Politècnica; and outside the UPC, colleagues and friends at the University of La Rioja and the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), who worked on earlier versions of the show. There are so many of you, and you’ve all been so generous with your support. So you certainly deserve to be named in the lengthy acknowledgements section that accompanies this exhibition. Thank you very much for your contributions!

Joan Antoni Pastor Collado
Barcelona School of Informatics, UPC
Informatics, Multimedia and Telecommunication studies, UOC

Barcelona, May 2017


Dídac Martínez, director of the Libraries, Publications and Archives Service of the UPC

The UPC libraries are privileged services thanks to the Barcelona School of Informatics (FIB), which is now celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Why is this so?

The UPC libraries, like those of other technical universities in Spain and Europe, do not have large collections of books. This is because, unlike in other fields, the support that libraries provide to education in technology is not mainly based on books. Instead, it follows an innovative learning model based on particular types of documents, such as reports, standards, plans, formulas, problems, solutions and studies. They also offer services related to technology, especially information and communications technology (ICT).

Thanks to ICT, the UPC libraries have pioneered dozens of innovative library projects. They were the first Spanish libraries to have automated bibliographic catalogues; they created and designed CD-ROM towers for consulting scientific and technical databases; they were pioneers in implementing integral library information management systems (with the VTLS product by Virginia Tech); and they founded the Consortium of Catalan University Libraries in order to create a single automated collective catalogue of the bibliographic records of all libraries in the Catalan university system. When the internet appeared, they were the first to publish digital books and were pioneers in offering open access to scientific and technical documents for researchers and professors through online repositories/servers such as UPCommons, now widely considered one of the world’s best repositories of its kind. They also led the change from print journals to digital journals for consulting scientific information. More recently, they earned the admiration of other universities with the Futur research portal, and have just put into operation the GeoCommons project of geo-location of the theses and projects of our students, professors and researchers, allowing anyone to locate them on Google Maps and see how they are related to the territory.

In our libraries, students use their smartphones to check the online resources and to reserve group study rooms. We are the first libraries in Spain to introduce the laptop loan service, and we created the UPC Digital Video Library, the UPC Open Courseware project, and repositories of examination papers, doctoral theses, bachelor's theses and dissertations. The list is endless. All these projects are related to the digital transformation of the library and the use of ICT.

Why am I saying all this? Because without the FIB it would have been impossible to carry out all these changes in our libraries. The professors, researchers, research groups, students and administration and service staff of the FIB have always helped and advised us. Interns from the FIB have carried out their bachelor's theses in fields related to libraries and management of documents and scientific information. Also, students of the FIB have planned and carried out innovative projects for our libraries, and many of them have ended up working for the Libraries, Publications and Archives Service.

The FIB has helped us position ourselves and will continue to drive the digital transformation of the UPC libraries, and I think this is because it is one of the best informatics schools in Europe. That’s why the UPC libraries are privileged services!

Thank you, FIB, on your fortieth anniversary!

Dídac Martínez
Director of the Libraries, Publications and Archives Service of the UPC

Barcelona, May 2017