January 1957 Radio & Television News Article
Remington Rand "Univac" (UNIVersal Automatic Computer) computer was delivered on March 31, 1951. Its main memory
consisted of liquid mercury delay lines arranged in 1000 words of 12 alphanumeric characters each. A Univac famously
calculated the first presidential race forecast - Eisenhower vs. Stevenson - and was correct! This 1957 report mentions
how "giant electronic computers no longer rank as laboratory curiosities or frightening science-fiction robots."
The Unisys company is today's descendant of Remington Rand.
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By Frank Leary
Electronic Brain for Industry
Business and industry, hard-pressed for information to aid management, turn
to computers for help - and find it!
The giant electronic computers no longer rank as laboratory curiosities
or frightening science-fiction robots. Imaginative businessmen, hard-pressed by a shortage of clerical help, have
put them quietly to work in the accounting office, the stockroom, and wherever else work can be routinized.
First of the giant brains to be built specifically for business, the Remington Rand "Univac" has been familiar
to most Americans through the role it has played in predicting the outcome of the last three national elections.
On last November's election evening, with less than 1/2 percent of the votes (300,000) counted, the "Univac" predicted
at 7:15 p.m., EST, that the odds were 100 to 1 in favor of an Eisenhower landslide and that only 87 electoral votes
were likely to wind up in the column of candidate Stevenson. By midnight, "Univac" had virtually pinpointed the
final results with a forecast that President Eisenhower's plurality would be 9,269,524, totaling 58 percent of the
popular vote to Stevenson's 42 percent. (The actual plurality, as of the time of this writing, is very close to
The first political forecast of "Univac" was made back in 1952. Then, with 3,380,000 votes reported.
"Univac" also quoted odds of 100 to 1, predicting 438 electoral votes for Eisenhower and 93 for Stevenson (final
returns: 442 to 89). At that time, only six "Univac" systems had been sold; these six were all the general-purpose
business data-processing systems that had ever been built. Now about a dozen large office-equipment and electronics
manufacturers are engaged in the building of big computers; half a hundred more companies are building major systems
components. What was a minor novelty in 1951 has become a several-hundred-million-dollar industry in the remarkably
brief ensuing period of a little over five years' time.
The "Univac" system shown on the cover of this month's
issue is one of the two such systems installed by the Consolidated Edison Company of New York to process its customers'
accounts. Over a hundred large-scale computing systems of this type are already working for American business and
industry across the land, in various government agencies, and in a great many military establishments and equipment,
as are described in the article "Behind the Giant Brains," in this issue.
The distinguishing feature of
the "Univac," when it was introduced in 1951, was not its computing speed; its own predecessor, the "Binac," could
compute almost two times as fast, and many other machines released before or since were faster than the Remington
Rand development. "Univac's" forte was in flexibility; it was one of the first big computers to be able to handle
numbers and alphabetic characters with equal ease; it was the very first computing system to use high-speed magnetic
tape recording to get information into the computer and get results out. High-speed tape input and output, of course,
permits the rapid handling and processing of information in volume. Since most problems of business and industry
are characterized by masses of alphabetic or numerical information on which a relatively small amount of computing
or processing is done, input-output facilities make the difference between a scientific computer and a data processor
which is truly applicable to large-scale business problems.
"Univac" is also unusual in being a self-checking
computer. Over a third of the circuitry in the large central computer cabinet is devoted to checking arid verifying
operations. Every arithmetical process, all transfers of information, and even the instruction set-ups, control
functions, and so forth, are checked. Inconsistencies, discrepancies, etc., cause the computer to stop and alert
the operator to their presence and location. Since the machine cannot introduce an undetected error, processed results
are thoroughly reliable.
It is difficult to estimate the savings which have accrued to dozens of computer
users, because these savings are both direct and indirect. Not only do companies relieve pressure on their overburdened
clerical staffs, and eliminate the many machines which formerly did the work now done by computers; but they also
do work which they had never planned, hoped, or intended to do before; work which only a high-speed electronic computer
can make possible. And in this realm, of course, there is no basis for comparison. But in every case, companies
which have leased or purchased such computers made their decisions to do so after their own staffs had made exhaustive
surveys which pointed conclusively to substantial and measurable savings over other systems. In this field, as in
almost any other, the searching criterion of economy has brought us into the electronic age.
Posted July 17, 2013