Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the introduction of UNIVAC I, the world’s first commercial computer. Unisys Corp., an e-business solutions company whose roots go back to UNIVAC, yesterday issued a tongue-in-cheek
for “the many human inconveniences” resulting from its invention of that computer.
UNIVAC, short for Universal Automatic Computer, was a large-scale, general-purpose commercial electronic computing system designed to satisfy the diverse needs of business management. In 1952, UNIVAC I gained widespread public attention when it correctly predicted the Eisenhower landslide in the US Presidential election. Because most political pundits were expecting a much closer election, CBS chose not to air the UNIVAC prediction, acknowledging its accuracy only after the election had been decided, according to Unisys.
“UNIVAC was a marvel of its time,” Leo Daiuto, corporate VP, and VP and general manager of Unisys’s Product Development & Technology Department. “Directly or indirectly, our invention of UNIVAC led to a whole new industry and a new way of life for all of us. Today, we’re still inventing bigger, faster, more cost-effective enterprise computers. But sadly, the many benefits of the Computer Age have been accompanied by a number of transaction-based annoyances — all unimagined 50 years ago. As the company that started it all, Unisys feels it only fitting that it mark this historic anniversary with an apology for those inconveniences.”
Specifically, Unisys “apologized” for:
Making it impossible for anyone to do more than five minutes’ worth of work without being interrupted by an e-mailed joke, Top Ten list, or chain letter.
Ensuring that if something goes wrong with a piece of equipment, intelligent, well-meaning people armed with hand tools and mechanical know-how will no longer be able to fix it.
Relegating to obscurity the smell of fresh-cut flowers because the only flowers you ever get to smell nowadays are the ones you see in online pictures when you’re ordering them to appease an irate spouse, who’s feeling neglected because you’re spending every spare minute online.
Making trips to the mall unnecessary because anything you can get there is available online at a steep discount.
Ending that great morning tradition of newspaper and coffee, because by the time your coffee is hot, the “news” in your newspaper is already two generations behind the online edition.
Giving government, business, and the average twelve-year-old the means by which to find out more about you and your personal tastes than you yourself ever knew.
Getting you so used to receiving responses in nanoseconds that you can no longer wait the ten seconds it takes for your microwave oven to warm up your bagel.
Making it impossible for you to justify that trip to a training workshop in Cancun because all the training you’ll need is now available on your desktop.
Making it possible for you to vacation in Cancun without ever losing touch with your boss back at the office.
Forcing you to go through a five-minute startup routine every time your computer crashes while you’re creating a three-minute memo.
Giving SPAM a bad name.
Jeopardizing the continued influence in American presidential politics of the hanging chad.
Making it easier for the IRS to spot discrepancies between your tax return and objective reality.
Reducing your life and everything in it to a series of counterintuitive acronyms.
Giving you a false sense of security regarding the spelling and grammatical accuracy of your next memo.
Increasing your volume of in-mail to the point where you have to devote significant time outside of regular working hours to get through it all.
Eliminating the concept of regular working hours.
Providing you with the means to lose money in the stock market at an unprecedented pace.
The half-dozen keystrokes you need to press for the privilege of being put on hold.
All those Monday morning deadlines you didn’t know about because they were e-mailed to your laptop at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.
All those theater tickets you can no longer buy at the door because every seat has already been sold online.
The dot.com bubble.
The bursting of the dot.com bubble.
The concept of multitasking.
The avalanche of press releases that any company with a media directory and access to email can now generate at a moment’s notice.
Unisys noted that the US Census Bureau was their first customer. Various governmental agencies and defense departments jumped on the bandwagon early on, along with corporations like GE, Met Life US Steel and DuPont.
Technology has come a long way in half a century. Unisys said that its top-of-the-line system today, the ES7000 Enterprise Server, has 1.6 million times more memory and weighs about 1/24th of what the original UNIVAC did.