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(The Grauniad, 28 November 1954)

Sir Ben Lockspeiser, addressing the Office Appliance and Business Equipment Trades Association in London yesterday, described some of the electronic devices now being used to perform elaborate clerical tasks in some of the larger business organisations. He suggested that the wider use of such devices could reduce the much-criticised disparity between office staffs and producers, and that their social and economic consequences in the business world might be as revolutionary as those which followed the invention of the typewriter and the consequent general employment of women in offices.

As an example, Sir Ben Lockspeiser said that some airlines now dealt with bookings automatically with the help of an electronic device whose “memory” consisted of a rapidly rotating magnetic drum on which all the relevant information was recorded in code. By calling up the computer the booking clerk in any office could tell an intending passenger in a matter of seconds whether or not there was a seat available for him on any particular aeroplane.

Sir Ben emphasised that electronic brains such as these had a doubly important role to play in modern business, but a notable obstacle to their wider use had hitherto been their expense and great size. A fully automatic general purpose electronic computer might contain as many as five thousand valves and require special ventilation to dissipate the heat generated. The germanium transistor, however, which had now emerged from the laboratory as a reliable commercial product, might change all this. It performed many of the functions of the radio valve, but was very much smaller and did away with filament heating.

Speaking of the vexatious problem of whether these elaborate electronic brains could really “think”, Sir Ben said that it was necessary to distinguish between routine thought – which a machine could often perform much more quickly and more reliably than the human brain – and creative thought, which lay outside the province of the machine.

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