The Computer Age is an informational brochure providing a short, but concise, story of the evolution of IBM computers from 1951 to 1976 (the year of publication). The entire booklet is available in PDF format from the Computer History Museum and can be found here. While it is an interesting introduction on how we got from there to here – from the huge and incredibly expensive vacuum tube mini-minds, to the less expensive, smaller, faster, and smarter personal computers of the time – there is something else that stands out.
The ‘special-effects’ photography of Mitchell Funk is fab. Below are three of his images from the booklet. IBM must have been immensely pleased by Funk’s ability to show their computer components as wonderful works of art.
A glistening array of IBM vacuum tubes.
A row of transistors appear to be marching in front of rainbow-ed wiring.
This curious and haunting image suggesting the ‘ghosts in the machine’.
Pretty good stuffs.
A h/t to Luis Cesar at Facebook for the inspiration.
Humans seem to have a very ambivalent relationship with their machines. At once they are both fascinating and helpful, but also sometimes menacing and intimidating. In the late 20th Century this was most graphically portrayed with the SkyNet revolution in the Terminator film franchise.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the machine held a part in popular consciousness as well – Fritz Lang’s Metropolis comes to mind almost in an instant. The people in the mid 20th century had their own fears. Numerous sci-fi films were made featuring rebellious robots and machines. This was not lost to the executives at The Bell System.
For the 1963 Bell Systems Communications Seminar, organizer Ted Mills hired Jim Henson to create a short film illustrating the ‘nascent, but growing relationship between man and machine: a relationship not without tension and resentment.’ Below is a video of the film, Robot – it perfectly illustrates how a fun little robot can be a bit scary at the same time. Paradoxically, Henson vindicates this angry robot’s complaints of human hubris by giving it a drastic fate as it declares, ‘we don’t need man.’