Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend OT: automation, workforce and history

another gem from Professor Mitchell at UCLA. This one a clip from the movie Desk Set with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn on the fears of the impact automation would have on the workforce. Really worth watching, with an added bonus near the end with a line of one person lamenting the deduction for Blue Cross in their paycheck. I bet it was like 50 cents.

Desk Set was from 1957, just a few years after Vonnegut's Player Piano was published in 1952. So this fear of automation was a real issue at the time. There is a Pittsburgh angle to all of this of course, that or I will make one up: In the mid 1950's the computer that was really being introduced into the world was the UNIVAC I which had been built by Remington-Rand of California. Why the computers were not built in a Philadelphia based company is another story. Most installations of the UNIVAC I were government agencies... but if you look just at private sector installations, the top regions were New York which had 4 UNIVACs in town by 1955, and Pittsburgh which had all of two UNIVAC's installed at Westinghouse and US Steel. Only a handful of other regions even had one at the time. May not seem like a lot but two put us ahead of nearly everybody else, not just in the US but the world. And if you think this is all ancient history, ask yourself why Herb Simon came upon the idea of creating a Computation Center at Carnegie Tech in 1956 and why there is a supercomputer center here to this day.

According to news reports, it was actually this week in 1954, August 25 to be precise, that news reports say the first UNIVAC in town was installed at US Steel's National Tube Division here. Seems like an important milestone for the region. Let's see if anyone notices.


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