‘A moronic clerk with a good memory’ – the computer takeover, 1969 | Life and style | #tinder | #pof

On 26 October 1969, the Observer Magazine attempted to get to grips with the burgeoning computer revolution (‘Computer Takeover’).

‘What then is a computer?’ asked John Davy. ‘It has been well described as an obedient, very moronic clerk with an exceptionally good memory.’ Well, we’ve all met one of those.

‘There is nothing qualitatively mysterious about anything a computer does,’ he argued. ‘It is the equivalent of the dumb giant; it can claim credit for intellectual brawn, but it owes its brain to the software man.’

After much gnashing of teeth he conceded that ‘the computer could also challenge us to a new social effort and inventiveness,’ but warned that: ‘It will be a dangerous master, but an ideal slave,’ a position hard to square with the annoying reality of the ZX-81.

The oddness of computer programmers makes an appearance, a stereotype from the very start. One company had noticed that there was a high turnover of cleaning staff – ‘women in their late 50s… nervous about working late at night, unchaperoned, when the strangely dressed and bearded programmers were the only other staff’. The lesson learned seems to have been to move them to the basement.

There was a piece about the early days of electronic dating (‘Dated and mated by a punchcard’). Derek had heard an ad for Com-Pat of Piccadilly, the first British-designed computer-dating system. Eight weeks after he was introduced to Denise, he proposed.

Derek was asked what he told the computer his ideal girl would be: ‘A fairly well-educated British spinster of any reasonable height, placid and optimistic, a fashionably dressed good mixer who would expect only occasional domestic help from him, believing that a woman’s place is in the home.’ Something tells me he might have struggled on Tinder.


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