Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The ENIAC Super Brain

The ENIAC computer was heralded as a super brain by the press. It was marveled as a great technological advance in a time where technology was just beginning. The ENIAC was unveiled in 1946 and was funded by the U.S. Military. Its main use seemed to be centered on calculating missile paths during wartime. The press was either amazed by this grand computer brain and its use in the field or its use in the advancement of technology.

The New York Times reported that this was a “mathematical brain” that could do computations 5000 times faster than a human could. The stories seemed to focus around its technological aspects, going over countless figures discussing how fast it was compared to other computers in that era. It doesn’t even mention its main purpose as a machine to help the military project missile paths during war. The story revolves around how this machine is smarter than a human being. In the 40s, I’m sure that this news came as a shock. A machine better than a human being, not physically, but intellectually? The headlines made sure people wondered that and used that to hook them into reading the article, where it bombarded them with facts and figures.

The Los Angeles Times barely mentioned the speed or the figures in the articles I found. Instead it focused on how it will be a great help to troops out fighting wars. This makes complete sense since the purpose of the ENIAC was to do just that. They also tended to call the machine a ‘weird robot,’ which sort of speaks to a fear in the use of these devices. Robots are almost analogous to monsters; if they aren’t helping us, they are taking over the world. There were still stories about how this will help man solve problems, and talk about its technological aspects, but always start right away in telling us how useful this will be for military use.

It makes sense for a country to be enamored with wartime technology. They had just gotten out of a war and a machine boasted as a giant brain could solve problems that might prevent anymore bloodshed would probably seem like a great idea. Computers today are very much presented in this fashion. Access to technology is regarded to be an essential aspect of one’s life, yet there is still this amazement and wonderment in it. It is still seen as a way to better our lives and the lives of others, just as the ENIAC was supposed to better the lives of mathematicians back then.


• "Era of 'Thinking Machines' Forecast in UCLA Preview." Los Angeles Times 30 July 1948: 1.
• Lissner, Will. "Mechanical 'Brain' Has Its Troubles." New York Times 14 Dec. 1947: 49.
• "Mechanical Brain Can Work Problems Too Deep For Man." Los Angeles Times 22 Aug. 1949: 24.

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