Coordinating Arithmetic

Dr. Charlotte P. Lee, professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), has received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to study the development and impact of the IEEE 754 standard for computer arithmetic. Achieving reliable systems during times of technical upheaval requires coordination among a wide range of stakeholders around technical knowledge, negotiation, and mutual learning.

The Standard, adopted in 1985 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is today taken for granted and is almost unthinkably ubiquitous. It allowed the device you are reading these words with today to seamlessly perform the minute arithmetic needed to render the type on screen. By enabling portability and reliability of floating point arithmetic, the IEEE 754 standard continues to underlie most computing in general, and scientific and engineering computing in particular.

Dr. Lee and HCDE PhD student Adam Hyland will conduct archival and documentary research and collect oral histories of mathematicians, engineers, library developers, and programming language designers to track the distributed coordination and collaboration which made reliable numerical computing ubiquitous. This research will detail the history of how the creation and adoption of a foundational technical standard came about through a complex interplay of technical know-how and collaborative skill.

Project updates

Research and documentary information will be made available here as the project continues.



Grant information

Sloan Grant number G-2023-21011