Computing in the commercial age

Weather prediction in the 50s.  Missile intercepts of UFOs in the 60s.  Electronic messages in the 70s.  We learned about it all through the commercials.

As far back 1956, Remington Rand told us how Univac could collect historical weather data, analyze that "big data" and use it to make predictions -- "all in a matter of minutes."  Imagine, data fed into a computer through magnetic tapes to the "memory tanks" that could hold 12,000 units of information. And it gets the prediction right due to its unique ability to check itself for possible errors.  Error checking!  Who would have thought!

But real peace of mind came from the Sage computer, part of a defense system created by MIT and IBM working with the Air Force.  All scheduled air traffic was entered via punch card (error checking anyone?) so that actual flying objects could be compared to expected flying objects.  If an unknown object appears on screen, an officer fires a light gun at it.  Scared yet?  Next an IBM computer calculates the missile trajectory for intercept, from which "there is no escape." Sure do wish he'd mentioned error checking.

Moving into the 70s, office messages can be read on screen while you have your morning coffee.  Want to share something with others?  Just push a button and the words you see on screen will appear on paper.  Another button and you can send the message to similar units in other offices.  It's just an experiment, but soon Xerox systems could assist you in managing your most precise resource.  No, not your time or even your children.  We're talking about your information.

Next time, we'll move on to some great computer ads from the 1980s .

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