View of Dr David Link's LoveLetters art installation showing rows of 1950s Ferranti computer cathode-ray tubes mounted on a gallery wall.

Ferranti art installation wins first Tony Sale Award

Artist and computing historian Dr David Link has won the inaugural Tony Sale Award for computer conservation for his installation LoveLetters, a replica of a 1951 computer with reconstructed software that generates texts to express and arouse emotions.

LoveLetters reconstructs the 1951 Ferranti Mark 1 computer which executes the original recovered software by renowned computer scientist Professor Christopher Strachey to generate automated ‘love letters’.

‘LoveLetters_1.0’ consists of two parts. In the installation, the visitor interacts with a functional replica of the Ferranti Mark 1, which conveys an impression of the different components and the functionality of the pioneering computer. By executing the original code of Strachey’s software, it continuously generates ‘love letters’. These are projected on a large screen at another location, in a public space, where everybody can read them.

The Ferranti Mark 1 was an industrial version of the Manchester Baby, a prototype of the first fully electronic universal computer controlled by software, built by engineers at Manchester University, headed by Frederic Williams and in cooperation with Alan Turing and Max Newman. In 1953-54 Christopher Strachey, using the programming system devised by Alan Turing, used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark 1 to generate texts that intend to express and arouse emotions.

The Tony Sale Award, managed by the Computer Conservation Society and sponsored by Google, has been established to recognise achievements in the growing area of computer conservation. Electronic engineer, computer programmer, and hardware engineer Tony Sale, who died in August 2011, is perhaps best known for leading the team that rebuilt the Colossus computer: he helped establish the Computer Conservation Society, co-founded the National Museum of Computing and was a key figure in starting the campaign to save Bletchley Park in the early 1990s.

Other nominations for the Tony Sale Award 2012 were:

  • DEC PDP1 restoration led by Dag Spicer of the Computer History Museum in California, US: a computer restoration project of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)’s first computer.
  • Time-Line Computer Archive by Michael Armstrong & Sandra Hodson, in Wigton, West Cumbria, UK: aiming to collect, restore and exhibit all types of early computers and electronics.
  • Z3 reconstruction in Hunsfeld, Germany, by Professor Doctor Raül Rojas: a reconstruction and simulation of Konrad Zuse’s Z3 Computer, originally built in Berlin between 1938-1941, destroyed during the Second World War.

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