Tech Time Warp: Public sees glimpse of computing’s future on TV
In this edition of Tech Time Warp we see how sixty-nine years ago this week, the public got a televised glimpse of computing innovations we now take for granted. On Dec. 14, 1954, legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow featured the Whirlwind computer on the program “See It Now.” (Take a look in this excerpt on YouTube.)
Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Whirlwind was a project undertaken at the behest of the U.S. Navy. The initial idea dating back to 1944 was to build a computer that could act as an aircraft simulator, but the machine developed was soon deemed too sluggish and inaccurate to fill that purpose. Don’t let that misfire color your opinion of the Whirlwind. Over the course of its lifespan, it was the first to incorporate several major technological innovations:
- The Whirlwind was the first computer to display text and graphics in real time on a video screen.
- It could run for 35 hours a week at 90 percent utility, relying on electrostatic tube memory. These tubes were eventually replaced with core memory in 1953, making the machine more nimble.
- The Whirlwind was the first computer to operate with direct keyboard input, eliminating programmers’ need to insert punch cards or fiddle with switches and dials.
- The Whirlwind’s Director tape, introduced in 1955, is considered a forerunner to modern operating systems because it provided a permanent set of operating instructions for the computer.
The Whirlwind remained in operation at MIT until May 29, 1959.
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