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Early computing in multiple contexts

by Critical Commons Manager

"With considerable trepidation, we undertake to interview this new machine." These are the opening lines of Edward R. Murrow's report on MIT's Whirlwind computer, developed for the Navy in 1951. Soon dispensing with the computer's limited ability to "communicate" with Murrow and his TV audience, Whirlwind creator Jay W. Forrester puts the machine through its paces, calculating first a missile trajectory, then the compound interest that would have accrued if Native Americans had more wisely invested the money they received for the Manhattan Island "purchase" in 1626. The segment, which aired shortly before Christmas of 1951, concludes on a more "playful" note as the project director demonstrates the computer's ability to synthesize an electronic version of Jingle Bells. Most interesting is Murrow's stated inability to understand the calculations performed by the computer at the request of a Naval officer. His disavowal, "I'm just a middleman," serves to align Murrow with a mass audience who is likewise presumed incapable of understanding the specific functioning of the computer and the context of its development at MIT.

MIT's Whirlwind computer debuts on See It Now with Edward R. Murrow

Days of mechanical and electronic marvel and the military industrial complex as seen on TV

from See It Now (1951)
Creator: Edward R. Murrow
Distributor: MIT
Posted by Critical Commons Manager