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Systems, Experts, and ComputersThe Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After$
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Agatha C. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780262082853

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262082853.001.0001

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Automation’s Finest Hour: Radar and System Integration in World War II

Automation’s Finest Hour: Radar and System Integration in World War II

(p.27) 1 Automation’s Finest Hour: Radar and System Integration in World War II
Systems, Experts, and Computers

David A. Mindell

The MIT Press

This chapter examines a particular set of technical and institutional developments during World War II to show how the radar, as a new instrument of perception, gave rise to a new approach to engineering systems. Combining servo-controlled gun directors with new radar sets raised problems of a system’s response to noise, the dynamics of radar tracking, and jittery echoes. Engineers from Bell Laboratories, together with their rivals and collaborators at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, learned to engineer the entire system’s behavior from the beginning, rather than just connecting individual, separately designed components. This new system logic reflected institutional relationships and evolved to suit their shifts, which meant designing the system around the radar, the system’s most critical component. By the end of the war, the MIT Radiation Laboratory ran the only successful effort to design a fully automatic radar-controlled fire control system, the Mark 56 Gun Fire Control System.

Keywords:   radar, World War II, instrument of perception, engineering systems, Bell Laboratories, MIT Radiation Laboratory, institutional relationships, Mark 56

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