Military, Private Companies and the Computer

burpfancyElectronics - Devices

Nov 8, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)


Military, Private Companies and the Computer

2) What were the relative roles played by the military and private
companies in the development of the computer and computer
networks from about 1945 to 2000? How and why did this vary
from the mainf
rame to the PC connected to the Internet?

Allen Miller

ECE 2980: Inventing an Information Society

Professor Kline



Throughout our study of information systems this semester, we have continually
witnessed a close rel
ationship between the military and private companies in the
advancement of communication technology. This relationship persisted in the
development of computers and computer networks

although the relative roles played by
the military and private companies
varies from the mainframe to the PC connected to the
Internet. The military seems to have played a larger role in the development of the
mainframe and Internet than in the development of personal computers. Private
companies, played a significant role in t
he development of all three inventions. The two
entities often worked together and with users to mold the development of the computer
industry and help lead us to the information society that we have today.

Any discussion of the development of the compute
r begins with World War II. As
Kelly and Aspray note, the success of the U.S. during the war was largely
dependant on the effective deployment of scientific research and technical development.
In particular, computers were used during the war for
aircraft fire control and code
breaking. The military and private companies often teamed with universities in what
Turner describes as a military
academic complex to produce computer
technology that could be used effectively against other n
ations. A prime example is the
development of the Mark I

which was built at IBM, shipped to Harvard and then used
to do computations by the Navy (specifically the Bureau of Ships). Other similar
examples of this close relationship between universities, the

military and business include
the AA Gun Diretor (Bell Labs and the Army) and the ENIAC (University of
Pennsylvania and the Army). World War II was so crucial to the development of the

computer because it set the precedent for a sense of teamwork between
the military and
private companies that would extend into the development of the mainframe.

As World War II ended and the Cold War began, both the military and private
companies played a large role in the development of the computer. The first step in thi
development was the mainframe computer. The military, for its part, had a vested interest
in acquiring more mainframe computers with more features because these powerful
machines were capable of processing vast quantities of data and running critical
lications. Even though World War II had ended, the Cold War had led to a
competitive and tense technological race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus,
the U.S. military had a strong incentive to fund the research and development behind
mainframe co
mputers. As a result of providing funding to private companies for
computer development, the military was able to exert a strong influence on the purpose
and shape of early computer development. Because of this early influence of the military
on the mainfr
ame computer, many of the military values like command and control can
still be seen embedded in the design of present day computers and computer networks.

Private companies used the funding provided to them by the military to produce
mainframes that cou
ld be sold back to the military for a profit. Computer firms benefited
enormously from the massive amounts of Cold War military funding. This eventually led
to the commercialization of the mainframe computer in the U.S. and the end of British
dominance of
the mainframe computer industry by the mid 1950s. A great example of the
military and private company relationship in the development of the mainframe is the
SAGE Air Defense System that went into operation in 1963. SAGE was manufactured by

IBM and then us
ed by the military to track and intercept enemy bomber aircrafts. SAGE
was an important factor in leading to IBM's early domination of the computer industry.

IBM’s domination of the computer industry and close links to the military played
a significant ro
le in the development of the mainframe

necessitating further
examination of the company. IBM received huge amounts of funding from the military
for products like the IBM 701, Defense Calculator and System 360

which received over
$5 billion in funding. Thus
, it tended to focus its production on machines that had
military applications and less applicability to everyday users. Yet, as Campbell
Kelly and
Aspray note, IBM also had a corporate culture of its own that affected the computer
industry in successive y
ears. IBM focused on leasing its computers instead of selling
them. IBM was also far more focused on the service and sales aspects of the mainframes
than on developing new technologies to keep up with competitors. This is a trend that
successive large comp
anies would face in years to come. And because of this skewed
focus, although IBM had a 65.3% market share in 1965, it quickly lost market share when
the mainframe matured and became a replicable commodity. Nonetheless, IBM’s impact
on the computer industr
y can still be felt today.

The personal computer was largely not affected by the military. The early PC
witnessed certain connections to the military, but increasingly developed largely
independent of the military. By the time the later personal computer

had begun to
develop, there was a clear shift away from producing almost exclusively for military and
research purposes towards producing for personal, everyday use. To be certain, the
military still utilized computers and welcomed advances in technology.

However, in the
late ‘70s and ‘80s the Cold War threat had begun to slowly wane and the sense of

urgency to out
do the Soviet Union and show case American military strength seems to
have subdued. As the Cold War threat waned, there was an increase in dema
nd for
computer use by others.

By the late 1970s, users had begun to place a demand on computers for personal

hence the term “personal computers.” Because of the declining military pressures
and increasing everyday
user influences, private companies
began to respond by
increasingly shaping their computer products to meet the needs of everyday
users rather
than military
users. Consequently, the personal computer began to slowly morph into the
purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and origi
nal sales price made it useful
for individual use. Software applications for personal computers began to allow for word
processing, database usage and a myriad of other personal uses. Thus, users were
instrumental in shaping the personal computer as the ro
le of the military declined.

Private companies played a large role in the development of the personal
computer by responding to user needs and changes in the demographic of their customer
base. This move was made by each company primarily to increase comp
any profits and
ensure the long
term sustainability of the company. In addition, hundreds of start
companies began to spring up across the nation to cater to the new demand. Most of these
ups were failures. However, a few private companies like Mi
crosoft and Apple
made huge profits and played an important role in shaping the personal computer.
Microsoft made most of its progress in software

perhaps one of its biggest break
throughs was the MS
DOS of 1984. Microsoft and its anti
competition business

also set the precedent for government regulation and intervention in cases of misused
monopoly power. Apple, for its part, was largely influential in developing the concept of

a graphical user interface and placing the focus even more on users an
d enhancing their
experience. Therefore, private companies played a large role in the development of the
personal computer and in reinforcing the shift away from military use and towards
everyday use.

The military and private companies both played large
roles in the advent and
development of computer networks and the Internet

as did users. The military was
largely involved in the beginning with the research and development behind the Internet.
The ARPANET, which was the world's first operational packet sw
itching network and
the predecessor of the contemporary Internet, was created by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Consequently, the first uses of the ARPANET were
associated with the military and with universities. The military would
later on have its
own computer network system named MILNET designated for unclassified traffic and to
prevent security breaches. These early predecessors to the Internet allowed for quick and
mobile exchanges of information that made the productivity level
s of both the military
and academic institutions increase. Thus, the military played a large role in developing
the foundations for the Internet.

As with the personal computer, users then began to utilize computer networks in
ways that had not been antici
pated by the architects of the web

thereby changing its
purpose and meaning. Users invented many social meanings of the Internet such as email.
Many social groups also played a role in shaping the Internet during the final days of the
Cold War. These socia
l groups included ARPA, contractors, computer researchers,
software companies and computer manufacturers. The deregulation of computer networks
allowed for users and social movement groups to experiment and develop their

preferences. Thus, although the ARP
ANET was primarily a military and academic
creation, it was developed and shaped largely by users.

As a result, private companies then responded to users preferences by modifying
their products to meet these changing preferences. In the process issues suc
h as addiction,
viruses, file sharing and control were identified and attempts were made to address them.
The Internet experienced a proliferation of businesses going online and many small start
up companies witnessed huge profits during the Dot Com Boom o
f the late ‘90s. Many of
these companies later went bankrupt during the Dot Com Bust of 2000. However, in the
process, these private companies shaped the Internet by giving a meaning to ecommerce
and setting certain social and economic precedents for Inter
net use. The informal,
decentralized structure of the Internet allowed for companies like eBay and Amazon to be
widely successful. The rise of Google, with its increasingly anti
competition practices
and successive government regulations, has set a precede
nt for more government
intervention. This, in turn, has led to higher standards and more restrictions on the ways
in which the Internet can and can not be used. Thus, the Internet has been shaped largely
by business.

What I have tried to argue in this pape
r is that both the military and private
companies played important roles in the development of the computer and computer
networks. Private companies were important in the development of the mainframe,
personal computer and Internet. The military, however,
seems to have played a large role
mainly in the creation of the mainframe and the Internet. What I have also been trying to
argue is that, in our analysis of computers (and information systems more broadly), we
can not forget the important role that users
played in conjunction with these two entities.

It is only by examining all three groups and the symbiotic and feedback interactions
between them that we can really understand the developmental history of computers and
computer systems from 1945

Works Cited

Aspray, William and Campbell
Kelly, Martin.
Computer: A History of the
Information Machine
. Oxford: Westview Press, 2004.

Turner, Fred.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture
. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 2006.