Three digital computers

JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need. JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Fri Feb 22 00:30:46 UTC 2008

There is an alleged quotation to the effect that "only five computers would ever be needed."  For some reason, this quotation is given the unlikely source and date of Thomas Watson Sr. in 1943.  Fred Shapiro in the Yale Book of Quotations has done research on this quote or misquote and has more data than I do.

I found a similar quote in a reprint of the first Richard Goodman Memorial Lecture, delivered by Lord Bowden on the University of Manchester, on May 2, 1969.  Unfortunately the reprint I have has no bibliographic details.

"I joined Ferranti in 1950.  They had nearly finished building the first digital computer ever to be made by a commercail firm in England.  <snip>  I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree, who had built the first differential analyzers in England and had more experience in using these very specialized computers than anyone else.  He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built---one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester.  <snip>  It is amazing how completely wrong a great man can be.  The computer business has since become one of the biggest in the world.  Hartree used to tell this storg against himself as long as he lived, but I want to emphasize the fact that in 1951 it was much harder to see into the crystal ball than you might think."

Whether the Hartree story has any relation to the alleged Watson quote, I simply do not know.

OT:  a pair of political eggcorns:

>From an AP new analysis by Tom Raum in today's paper, University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan was quoted as saying "Obama can really do well when he gets in the face of audiences."

>From an online article for which I lost the URL: Hillary Clinton is "off on a new tact".

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