[SIGCIS-Members] Automation bibliography

Ceruzzi, Paul CeruzziP at si.edu
Mon Jun 15 11:32:18 PDT 2015

It is such a huge topic; you somehow have to choose where to focus, and get to specific cases if you can. I was always fascinated by the role of General Electric, where Kurt Vonnegut worked as a technical writer and was inspired to write Player Piano by his experiences there. Ronald Reagan was a spokesperson for the company later on. When GE installed one of the first commercial UNIVACs at their Louisville, KY appliance plant, they were concerned with the topic of automation eliminating jobs and its possible bad publicity. Their public affairs department orchestrated a careful campaign to show that the UNIVAC eliminated drudgery, but freed GE workers for more creative tasks. And they also had to justify the expense of this exotic machine for their shareholders, promising that it would increase profits. Prior to the UNIVAC installation in 1954, there was lots of talk about this, going back to the 1920s and 1930s, but now it was real. An article in the Harvard Business Review about the UNIVAC ended with this quote:

“The Utopia of automatic production is inherently plausible. Indeed, the situation of the United States today, in which poverty has come to mean the absence of status symbols rather than hunger and physical misery, is awesomely favorable when measured against the budgetary experience of previous generations or the contemporary experience of most of the people living on the other continents.”

All that from the installation of a vacuum-tube computer with very primitive, by modern standards, computing power. A further irony is that the UNIVAC, as far as I could tell, did not have anything to do with automating production on the factory floor.

Paul E. Ceruzzi, Curator
Division of Space History, MRC 311
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
PO Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Joe Corn
Sent: Monday, June 15, 2015 2:08 PM
To: members at sigcis.org
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Automation bibliography

On this topic don’t neglect an important early work, based on considerable field work at sites where automation was occurring, by Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, published in 1988. At the time Zuboff was a professor in the Harvard Business School.

Joe Corn
Senior Lecturer Emeritus
Dept. of History
Stanford University
joecorn at stanford.edu<mailto:joecorn at stanford.edu>

Permanent Address:
P.O. Box 1299
Sagamore Beach, MA 02562

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