Technology: The Cybernated Generation

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A Dynamic Alliance. Without the present generation of computers, man could never hope to reach the moon. The development of jet planes would have been delayed for many years. There would be no ballistic missiles or Polaris submarines. Scholars would still be struggling to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls, a job of rapid indexing and analysis made possible by the computer. To process without computers the flood of checks that will be circulating in the U.S. by 1970, banks would have to hire all the American women between 21 and 45. If all the computers went on the blink, the country would be practically paralyzed: plants would shut down, finances would be thrown into chaos, most telephones would go dead, and the skies would be left virtually defenseless against enemy attack.

Despite his occasional fears about this dependence, man is joining with the machine in what IBM Chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr. calls "a dynamic alliance." Business is what makes a nation run—and computers increasingly are what make business run. They not only handle such routine matters as paper work, payrolls, billing and inventories, but are also assuming a large role in production and decision making. Computers already control many of the production processes in the paper, petrochemical, petroleum and steel industries. At Western Electric's "Plant of Tomorrow" in Kansas City, they control the billing, shipping and warehousing, order materials, write the checks to pay for them, decide what to produce and in what quantity. The New York City Bar Association last week staged a mock trial in which it subpoenaed computerized business records as evidence, thus raising questions about how to cross-examine a computer and who to blame when a machine's decisions cause a corporation to run afoul of antitrust laws.

The most expensive single computer system in U.S. business is American Airlines' $30.5 million SABRE, a mechanical reservation clerk that gives instant up-to-the-minute information about every plane seat and reservation to American's 55 ticket offices. International Harvester uses a computer to simulate driving conditions on the Ohio Turnpike and thus evaluate a truck's probable life span. North American Aviation used computers to run 5,000 simulated test flights of the XB-70 before the plane ever got off the ground. Many large companies, especially in aerospace construction, are taking a lesson from the Navy's PERT system (for Program Evaluation and Review Technique), which was used to analyze weekly progress reports from 10,000 contractors during the construction of the Polaris.

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