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Men, Machines, and Modern Times$
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Elting E. Morison

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262529310

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262529310.001.0001

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The Pertinence of the Past in Computing the Future

The Pertinence of the Past in Computing the Future

(p.89) 4 The Pertinence of the Past in Computing the Future
Men, Machines, and Modern Times

Elting E. Morison

The MIT Press

This chapter discusses the pertinence of the past, or “what possible use is there in history,” in computing the future. It begins with a brief account of a situation that occurred in March 1943, when German submarines sank in the Atlantic Ocean 567,401 tons of U.S. merchant shipping. A conference was called in Washington to discuss ways to reduce the attrition caused by the submarine, and it was agreed—after much debate—that the convoy system would be the primary means of protection for the merchant tonnage. The chapter proceeds by considering the capacities of the computer: remembering, learning, discerning patterns, making surprising combinations of data. It examines the emotional and intellectual responses to computers, the role of the computer in fostering creativity, and the impersonality of the computer. It suggests that since the computer can only simulate, the work of creating the future still rests in man's hands.

Keywords:   history, German submarines, merchant shipping, convoy system, computers, creativity, impersonality

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