Don't date robots!

In the new version of ITNOW - out early December - I've added a small section on the last page dedicated to a look back. We are, of course, a forward-looking organisation, but there can be lessons to be learned, interesting developments for the time to be admired and, sometimes, a little humour to be had from a look back.

Here goes.

There’s an advert in March 1962 Computer Bulletin from Monroe. It claims: ‘World’s first really low-cost electronic computer. Monrobot £12,500. No bigger than your secretary’s desk. Simple to operate.’

Where to begin? Obviously 1962 was a very different time, so perhaps a secretary’s desk was a standard measurement understood by all. Apparently people about to spend £12,500 also didn’t mind being patronised either.

I was also given to wonder if £12,500 was really ‘low-cost’. So I went to www.measuringworth.com - a very interesting website btw - and discovered that, as of 2009, a 1962 £12,500 0s 0d was worth either £199,000 (using the retail price index) or £451,000 (using average earnings). Either way it seems jolly expensive.

And then there is the name of this thrifty machine: The Monrobot. It reminded of a clip from Simpson’s creator Matt Groening’s other bit of animated genius, Futurama. One episode posits a world where people can date robots. Naturally the Monroe-bot would be popular. Check it out if you have a moment: http://vimeo.com/12915013. And remember: Don’t date robots!

The birth of call centres - 1962 news

In the news section IBM had demonstrated new voice-recognition equipment, capable of recognising 16 different words. This item was immediately followed by ‘Automatic Voice Replies’ discussing the merits of a system that used verbal replies from the Univac Real-Time Computing System.

The article notes that the use of this automated system could expand from the sale of aeroplane seats between airlines 'to hotels, motor car rental organisations, stock brokerage houses, credit reference organisations...’ and more. No mention of broadband providers. Did they know what they were starting?

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About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

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