Data Intelligence – Evolution of Computing Creativity from the 1950s

From the Information Machine video

From the Information Machine video

“As a function of design, the calculator provides creative man a higher platform upon which to stand and from which to work,”  – video narrator.

In honor of #ThrowbackThursday, here’s a fascinating peek back into the 1950s.  Charles and Ray Eames wrote and produced this commercial for IBM, called ‘The Information Machine: Man and the Data Processor’, which debuted at the 1958 Brussels’ World’s Fair.  It draws the viewer through the evolution of early problem-solving and design theory using a scratchy cartoon animation.  A primitive man, the first ‘artist’, walks the earth observing natural forms and storing their visual properties in a ‘memory bank’ which supplies the data for entire systems of logic.  From there, a somewhat comical leap from the first sail boat to the preeminence of the computer as a tool for creative man.

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- Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

Big Data from the 1920s – Punched Cards Paving the Way for Social Security

1937 IBM advertisement for automating payroll (Image Credit:  IBM100)

1937 IBM advertisement for automating payroll (Image Credit: IBM100)

It was the largest accounting initiative in the nation’s history:  The pioneering technology collaboration between the Social Security Administration and IBM has changed the lives of hundreds of millions of retired American workers and their families since its inception in 1937.  Every employer and employee was assigned an identification (ID) number that would be used for collecting and tracking the funds on a regular basis.  (IBM100)

IBM’s essential role in the creation of the United States Social Security Program in 1937 – the largest accounting job in history to that point – has long been celebrated. But few know that the technology solution that was collaboratively developed by the Social Security Administration and IBM traced its roots back to 1920. That was when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and IBM first began creating punched card accounting systems for agricultural research.  Elwood Way, then a USDA employee with just two years of service, suggested using punched card equipment to coordinate data. This suggestion, Way later recalled, was based on once seeing IBM equipment in action at the Pillsbury Milling Company in Minneapolis. He had no real experience with punched card equipment per say, but since it was his idea, he got “stuck with the job.” Way quickly became a punched card systems expert, and during his decade with what became known as the Machine Tabulating and Computing Section of the Bureau of Markets, he oversaw more than 100 tabulating projects.

IBM Punched card (from IBM100)

IBM Punched card (from IBM100)

Government contracts and government checks During Roosevelt’s New Deal, IBM punched cards were not only used for tabulation and recordkeeping for sizeable government contracts, but they were also used to print the actual government-issued checks. For the 1935 Social Security Administration contract—considered at the time to be "the world's largest bookkeeping job"—millions of IBM punched cards were used. In fact, federal checks were based on IBM’s card design up until the mid-1980s.

IBM punched cards were not only used for tabulation and recordkeeping, but they were also used to print the actual government-issued checks. For the 1935 Social Security Administration contract—considered at the time to be “the world’s largest bookkeeping job”—millions of IBM punched cards were used. In fact, federal checks were based on IBM’s card design up until the mid-1980s. (from IBM100)

The government’s use of IBM equipment accelerated during the early days of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which saw the creation of a series of accounting system projects, each larger and more far reaching than its predecessor. In June, 1933, the government’s tabulating experts – including Way – joined with IBM to take on the task of creating a punched card accounting system for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s (AAA) Cotton Control Contract, which would manage contracts with more than 1.6 million cotton farmers. But at the time, the quick installation of IBM’s punched card system had more immediate benefits, according to Dr. Rexford Tugwell, Under Secretary for Department of Agriculture. “This machine that we are now using has prevented a revolution in this country, especially in the Mississippi Valley …. It’s a wonder. We got out these checks with it, and if we hadn’t gotten them out on time we would have had a revolution. Farmers were calling for those checks and there was no way in the world to get them out except by such devices as this company produces and furnishes to the country.”

The next big New Deal project for Way and IBM, in October 1934, was the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The RRB intended to create an accounting system to track the retirement funds for some 3.5 million employees whose deductions would be taken from their wages and posted to an interest-bearing account. But before the Board could order the workhorse IBM equipment for the program, the RRB was declared unconstitutional, and the program skidded to a halt. However, the work of Way and his colleagues on the RRB was not wasted, since the plan that was developed for that program would later greatly inform the system designed for Social Security. The punched card concept that was worked out for the Railroad Retirement Board – employee account numbers, wage reports, ledgers, forms and processes – served as the basis for that which would be successfully applied in 1937 with the creation more than 26 million accounts for the Social Security program, one of earliest and most successful Big Data initiatives in the industry.

by Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist

by Paul Lasewicz,
IBM Corporate Archivist

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IBM and Space Flight: What’s Next for Billions of Earth-Like Planets in the Galaxy?

Missions of the future?  (Photo Credit:  IBM 100)

Missions of the future?  (Photo Credit: IBM 100)

A new analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft by Erik Petigura has revealed that there could be billions of habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.  According to Mr. Petigura’s paper, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one out of every five sunlike stars in the galaxy has a planet roughly the size of Earth flying in orbits around those suns – at distances that make temperatures on the planet neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist.

The Space Shuttle Columbia’s launch on April 12, 1981, with five IBM computers, marked humanity’s first reusable spacecraft and the beginning the US Space Shuttle Program.  (Photo Credit:  IBM 100)

The Space Shuttle Columbia’s launch on April 12, 1981, with five IBM computers, marked humanity’s first reusable spacecraft and the beginning the US Space Shuttle Program. (Photo Credit: IBM 100)

So what’s next in space exploration?  Some scientists speculate that a permanent residence on the Moon would be the next logical step. Others predict a human mission to Mars will be feasible by the mid-21st century. Whatever the task at hand, technology companies like IBM and others will be there to lend their technological know-how and scientific expertise to help explore the boundaries of what’s possible.

For many millions of people around the world, the most dramatic moment in the history of space flight was the first lunar landing 35 years ago. Of course, the journey to the Moon began long before Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle onto the Sea of Tranquility, and it was built on a series of accumulating achievements over many years. IBM was involved both at the beginning of that journey and throughout. And in the three decades following the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission, IBM continued to play an important role in mankind’s exploration of the high frontier and in the increasing use of space for science, communications and business.

Did you know that IBM’s involvement with the US space program began even before NASA existed?  In fact, IBM developed computers for NASA’s predecessor, the US National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. IBM was involved in the Apollo program from the beginning. And in the three decades following the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission, IBM continued to play an important role in humankind’s exploration of the high frontier—helping advance science, communications and business.  Learn more

(Video description):  A global collaboration of 19 countries, the SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built. The SKA will revolutionize humankind’s understanding of the cosmos by answering questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, as well as other mysteries of time and space. It will consist of thousands of receptors stretched across an area the size of a continent—the total collecting area of these receptors combined will be approximately one square kilometer. IBM is working to map and model the complex ecosystem of capabilities that will be required to build the SKA.

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- Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

IBM Computer Creativity: 3 Things You Never Knew – Movies, Cooking, Books

Image Credit:  Lord of the Rings movie trilogy

Image Credit: Lord of the Rings movie trilogy

This is Part 2 of the IBM Creativity Series – Part 1 covered 3 Things You Never Knew About IBM Creativity – Games, Art, and Music. This post will cover 3 things you never knew about IBM computer creativity.

In addition to IBM driving innovation and creativity for 102 years, as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty recently shared, IBM computers have also long been used to help spur the creative process.  Here are few of the more notable examples of how IBM computers and technology played a critical part in the creative process.

Category 1 (Movies):  

Lord of The Rings Trilogy:  IBM supplied digital effects facility Weta Digital, Ltd., with 150 IBM® IntelliStation® workstations, running Linux®, for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Weta created effects, from digital horses to Gollum, a character in the series.  Weta and its sister company, Weta Workshop, won two Oscars for their digital effects work on the first “Lord of The Rings” trilogy.  To learn more:

Image Credit:  IMDb

Image Credit: IMDb

Despicable Me:  IBM provided an iDataPlex system to Illumination Entertainment to help it meet the massive production requirements involved in creating the computer-animated 3-D feature film, “Despicable Me”, released in 2010.  The animation process to produce the film generated 142 terabytes of data — an amount roughly equivalent to the traffic generated by over 118 million active MySpace users or 250,000 streams of 25 million songs.  The iDataPlex solution also included a water-cooled door that allows the system to run with no air conditioning required, saving up to 40% of the power used in typical server configurations for this type of production process.  To learn more:

Image Credit:  Fast Company (Italian grilled lobster, with a complex set of pairings including salt, pepper, saffron, green olives, tomato, pumpkin, mint, oregano, white wine, water, macaroni, orange juice, orange, bacon, and oil. )

Image Credit: Fast Company (Italian grilled lobster, with a complex set of pairings including salt, pepper, saffron, green olives, tomato, pumpkin, mint, oregano, white wine, water, macaroni, orange juice, orange, bacon, and oil. )

Category 2 (Cooking):  When you think of the creative things that humans do, cooking comes to mind as one creative outlet that appeals to many.  After winning at chess and Jeopardy, taking on large databases of information to cook up something creative for dinner seems like a logical step.  After all, while most chefs may only consider pairings of hundreds of different ingredients for the evening meal, there are probably unlimited possibilities of pairings that might taste good.  So, the IBM flavorbot is looking to put together underrated highly flavorful ingredients, unusual but tasty flavor pairings, and bring them all together into whole recipes.  To generate leads, the flavorbot looks at three databases of information – recipe index, hedonic psychophysics (quantification of what flavors people like at the molecular level), and chemoinformatics (connecting what foods the molecular flavor is actually in).  To learn more, see the links below:

Category 3 (Books):  Ever heard of “Abechamycin”?  It’s not a new antibiotic….but it may be one day.  At Pfizer in 1956, an IBM 702 helped create a 198-page, 42,000 word book of potential chemical names as a way of spurring and accelerating the naming process for the many new drugs the firm introduced on an annual basis.  Learn more.

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- By Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection, and Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist

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The October 2013 theme for The Greater IBM Connection is ”creativity and innovation”, and The Greater IBM Connection will be sharing various tips, tools, and resources on this topic.

The Origins of Cloud Computing – from the 1920s

IBM cloud origin -sm

Tabulating Machine Service Division (TMSD) proposal presented to IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Sr. in 1922

Sometimes history is tangible, something you can literally hold it in your hand. Like this 1922 document I ran across in our holdings. It very well may be the earliest formal outline of Cloud at IBM.

They didn’t call it Cloud in 1925. It was the Tabulating Machine Service Division (TMSD) in this proposal presented to IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Sr.  But at its core, TMSD was Cloud – the provision of data processing capability to clients who couldn’t or wouldn’t invest in building an internal data processing infrastructure.

In this proposal, TMSD would target several opportunities in the data processing marketplace. It was to “be utilized for rendering Tabulating Machine facilities to non-users and the small concerns who are not sufficiently large to install Tabulating Machines, for taking care of peak load requirements of present users, and for rendering assistance to existing installations where special service is requested.”

In these cases, the thinking was that the clients would move to having machines put in when the business grew sufficiently large to warrant it. “The Service Department will supply the means of educating a future user to the benefits of Tabulating Machines, preparing them for the installation of equipment when the volume of their work amounts to sufficient to justify recommending the ordering of machines.”

In addition, TMSD would help preserve the existing client base, as “discontinued customers will be followed up actively,” and “those planning reduction of expense through the elimination of machines or changes in methods will offer special opportunities to the service salesmen.”

IBM cloud origin2-zoom

The price of those opportunities was certainly right. The proposal estimated the cost for generating a single report of a thousand cards, up to 4 sorts and 1 total, was $5.68. IBM’s profit? One third – $1.42.  The proposal even offered the 1920s version of sending data to the Cloud … it included retaining the client’s punched cards for a year.

The TMSD concept took a decade and a global economic collapse to come to fruition, but in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, IBM opened the first of what is now called Service Bureaus. Watson, Sr., later recalled that the Depression re-prioritized the original business rational for the service – in 1932 the most important objective of the Service to preserve the existing client base by taking over the data processing for firms who, due to a downtown in their fortunes, could no longer afford a tabulating machine installation of their own.

Regardless of what business need the Service Bureau targeted, the end result was that clients responded to the flexibility it the concept offered them. By 1946, the Bureau had contracts ranging in value from $10 to $250,000 for a three million card project for Western Union. And it was well positioned to take advantage of the explosion in data processing as the world emerged from the Second World War.

by Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist

by Paul Lasewicz,
IBM Corporate Archivist

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3 Things You Never Knew About IBM Creativity – Games, Art, and Music

smarter ideaIn IBM’s 2010 Global CEO study of over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries, creativity was touted as being the most important leadership quality for success, outweighing even integrity and global thinking.

So how much creativity and innovation can the world’s 13th largest employer inspire?  Apparently, quite a lot, as the following list shows.  So here is today’s list of cool things you never knew about IBM creativity, focusing on Games, Art, and Music.

1. IBM and Serious Games

You may have heard of Zynga when it comes to games, but did you know that FastCompany listed IBM as one of the Top 10 Companies in Gaming due to our work in serious games?  IBM has been investing in serious games since 2000 and has made advances in performing key research, prototypes, and/or complete games in these five areas – technical training, leadership skill-building, marketing, talent on-boarding, and productivity building.  Watch the trailer below and learn more about IBM and Serious Games here.

2. IBM and Art

Image credit:  Hermitage Museum

Image credit: Hermitage Museum

Of course, there is a lot of very creative IBM advertising art to be found as the quick list below shows.  But there are a number of other ways that IBM has had a connection to art.  For example, in 1997, IBM built the online Hermitage Museum for Hermitage in Russia which was touted as the “World’s Best Online Museum” by National Geographic Traveler.   IBM was also a major collaborator on the Eternal Egypt project and website, with the goal of bringing to light more than 5000 years of Egyptian civilization to help preserve it for tourists, students and scholars.  More recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York worked with IBM to install a wireless sensor network to help preserve the works of art in its world-renowned, encyclopedic collection.  Works of art are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, relative humidity, and other environmental conditions.  IBM’s sensor network is enabling the museum’s scientists to monitor and analyze the reaction of art objects to environmental changes that will help them to develop predictive models for art preservation more accurately.  Learn more about IBM and art here.

Other IBM Art Related

3. IBM and Music

IBM Orchestra in 1944 - courtesy of IBM Archives

IBM Orchestra in 1944 – courtesy of IBM Archives

IBM has a long history with music.  Did you know that there was even an official company song book, published in the 1930s, called Songs of the IBM?  It started in the earliest years of the company’s history with a 32 member employee band, which was followed by a variety of other employee musical groups — an orchestra, singing groups for men, for women, for men and women, even for children.  Soon, singing and instrumental performances spread to other IBM sites and groups, and many IBM meetings would start with employees singing various “fellowship songs”, such as “Ever Onward” (the IBM rally song).  However, IBM’s connection to music was just not limited to employee musical groups.  Much like IBM’s modern-day creativity often manifests itself in the form of leveraging technology to create something very cool like the world’s smallest movie made from atoms, there were early creative efforts to create music from mainframes as the stories below show.  Learn more about IBM and music here.

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- By Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

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The October 2013 theme for The Greater IBM Connection is ”creativity and innovation”, and The Greater IBM Connection will be sharing various tips, tools, and resources on this topic.

IBM, an Early Adopter Since 1927

IBM President Thomas J. Watson Sr.

IBM President Thomas J. Watson Sr placing trans-Atlantic call in 1927

The theme for May 2013 is ‘Emerging Trends’

When one thinks about emerging trends in business operations, it’s easy to forget that things that we take for granted today were once considered new and innovative. Traditionally, IBM has been an early adopter of any practice that would improve business efficiency.

For example, when AT&T inaugurated the first trans-Atlantic radiophone service between the United States and Europe on January 7th, 1927, IBM was one of the very first companies to place a call that day, relaying a message from our New York offices to our London operations.

In a letter to employees published in Business Machines, IBM’s primary internal publication, IBM President Thomas J. Watson Sr., wrote that this was “an unusual opportunity to be again among the pioneers in the utilization of a new and meritorious time-, labor- and money-saving device. Our appreciation of this new method of trans-Atlantic communication has two contributing causes—the fact that we always welcome, and are among the first to adopt, appliances which aid business, and the fact that our worldwide business in fifty-four different countries of the earth often demands a rapid exchange of messages.”

A focus on continuous improvement is not a modern trend – it’s an IBM cultural trait!

by Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist

by Paul Lasewicz,
IBM Corporate Archivist

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