In the early 1960s, computers were just beginning to take their place in daily life in Raleigh, and writer Lineta Craven took a look at the city’s electronic landscape.
Electronic computers, young as they are, have come to play a role in the life of businessmen something like that played in other times by the saddle-backed elephant before wheels were invented. They carry businesses towards success when they’re placed on the right road. But unless someone is telling them what to do, they reveal their stupidity and take a wrong turn.
In Raleigh, more than 20 firms and government offices enjoy the benefits of data processing by what some fondly call “electronic idiots.” Banks, insurance agencies, dairies, textile research, investment and realty companies are among the major users of the large and highly sophisticated machines.
In the next few years, department stores, private clubs, grocery stores and public schools probably will be employing this modern method of processing facts and figures.
Data processing may be the job of a stoop-shouldered man in a green eyeshade perched on a high stool, painstakingly adding figures in a leatherbound ledger. At the other extreme, it may involve an impressive array of multi-million dollar electronic computers, whirling away thousands of feet of magnetic tape.
For the average businessman – trapped in the squeeze of office operating expenses increasing faster than his profit margin – neither of these methods is the answer to his problems. He has had enough of the traditional time-consuming forms of record-keeping, but he is equally disenchanted by the expense and complexity he envisions to be a part of electronic data processing.…
Raleigh is a progressive city situated in the center of a progressive state, and the computer seems to go hand in hand with people searching always for a better way to get things done right. This fact is supported by the rapid increase of businesses and institutions which are more and more turning to punched cards of all colors for billing, payrolls and inventory.…
N.C. State has a Computer Center employing over 15 people who deal with problems ranging from numbers for composing music to the collaboration of calculations for a student in nuclear physics.…
“Computers let us solve problems which man could not even attempt to solve without machines,” explained former director Dr. Darrell Shrieve. “One hour of work by a computer is equal to work that would take a man 75 to 100 years to complete.”
The plan to let computers take over student registration for the upcoming semester had some pros and cons for the students.
Though signing up for classes via machine might cut down long lines in the heat of September, it also limits the choice of the students who want to get out of Saturday classes.
A student pre-registers for the courses he wants to take, and the computer fills out his schedule. The department head can control class numbers and instruction. And the young scholar accepts his doom. The machine has spoken, and there’s no sense in wasting time trying to argue with it.…
But one important thing to bear in mind about computers is this: a computer in its present form is definitely limited. It does only what someone tells it to do, and performs operations that are highly inferior to the level of human thinking.
Arthur Verbeck, who ran the computers for the School of Textiles, explained it this way:
“A computer literally has to be led by the nose. There is no such thing as a computer being able to solve a complex problem instantaneously. It must first break down the problem into very simple, elementary steps. The fact that it’s fast makes it seem intelligent.” – The N&O, 7/5/1964