Are today’s computers facing the problems they were originally designed for?
Analyzing the reasons why computers were originally created for is a good way to understand it better and how it impacts our lives.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to meet a former IBM executive, an old and wise man, he worked in the design and commercialization of the firsts Electronic Brains (as IBM called them in the beginning), for me it was like meeting a veteran, someone that was an important part in the beginning of this tech revolution that has accelerate the organization’s capabilities and within the time is also changing the way we behave as society.
Of Course, for a tech lover like me, it was an opportunity to meet and understand from a protagonist; how those days were, the challenges and mistakes, the pros and cons, the results. Huge economic investment, time, logistics, energy consumption, physical space, physical security, complexity… actually they are still issues associated with big tech projects but during those days it was especially hard. They were creating a new industry, a new discipline, each step was a new one in history, the start of a new era. Those firsts machines were slow and complex to use and did just some basic calculations, so, Why jump to this? Why did governments and big companies invest in this new technology?
Back in the 40’s the problems were to adapt the companies and public organizations to an increased complexity and the need to coordinate more people. The Wars and the big crisis opened the eyes of managers, presidents and scientists to accelerate the process of creating machines that help in repetitive tasks and let them be focused on important things. They desperately needed to be more competitive to survive (the history of humanity). This moment for me was the first when human beings had left the responsibility of doing something complex to someone/something that was not a god.
There are many ways to define computers, for the purpose of this article I’m going to simplify the concept to someone/something that receives inputs, execute programmable calculations and produce an output. Solving mathematical equations is pure fun for people that like mathematics, the problem comes when those calculations need to be solved in a short period of time or when it is a repetitive task. In those early years of computers some of the main problems were:
- Calculate ballistic trajectories
- To decode ciphered messages
- Generate a payroll
For governments and big companies (banks, insurance, industries, etc.) it was great news to know that they can improve their complex process and calculations for Census, Financial transactions, Payroll, etc. Not everybody can work with those computers, they were like big factory machines that eat inputs and produce outputs, the operators were very smart and prepared engineers, the superstars and computers were the protagonists.
While factories process raw materials and as a result bring products for the final users, I think the first managers that decide to invest in the first computers somehow influence in the creation of one factorie that organize the tasks and operations and as a result deliver information for them, I’m convinced that computers works like factories with operators (users) and clients that get the products (information and insights), of course the raw material is the data.
More than 70 years later information technology is controlling directly or indirectly almost any aspects of our lives, something that was originally designed to help companies in their adaptation process to a new changing world now is helping us meet new people; the power of communications is like a water that is going out of the glass to another dimension, the Reality.
My question is, is there any difference between the first computers and current computers? in terms of speed, security, design, size yes but in terms of interfaces it is still the same, we, the people, still are Users. In a world where most of us work in networks where the corporate resources and services are mixed with personal ones, where is the line between the User and the Person? Why do many people that work in organizations use less “the systems” and use more IM services, mails or even personal Excel Sheets? Is the traditional client/server approach ready to be adapted to the people?
Today we are trying to solve IT architecture problems with Laws for example GDPR or Google Tax. I think it is a good moment to sit and think about new ways to bring digital services where the center is The Person, with transparency and a deep understanding of the responsibilities that implies providing services to humans that want to develop their lives and have their rights just like companies in the early 40's.
In memory of Jose Alvaro Calle Guglieri, an inspiring example of curiosity and hardwork.