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Unisys Apologizes for the Computer

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** The Univac Turns 50  ** 
 
Look at what a half-century has wrought. It was 50 years ago 
today that the famed Univac, widely considered the first 
commercial computer, made its public debut during a dedication at 
the U.S. Census Bureau. At the time, proponents assured the world 
that computers would give us shorter workweeks and paperless 
offices. But there's no disputing the impact the subsequent 
computer revolution has had on business and, more recently, life 
away from work.
 
The first implications of the widespread influence Univac and its 
offspring would have came in the fall of 1952, when the fifth 
Univac machine correctly predicted Dwight Eisenhower's landslide 
victory over Adlai Stevenson. CBS News chose not to reveal that 
prediction until it had been verified by a hand count, but the 
implications were clear. Computers were on the verge of 
transforming the way we accessed information.
 
After delivering the first seven Univacs to government agencies, 
Remington Rand (now Unisys Corp.) made its first private-industry 
sale to General Electric Co. in 1954. Shortly thereafter, GE 
revealed that by using its Univac to automate payroll, it was 
able to reassign a large number of payroll clerks to other 
positions within the company. In all, Remington Rand sold 46 
Univacs, which, given the then-enormous price tag of $1 million 
to $1.5 million, was considered mass production at the time. "It 
was really the beginning of the computer industry," says computer 
historian George Gray, a systems programmer for the State of 
Georgia who writes the Unisys History Newsletter.
 
The contrast between the Univac and today's mainframe equivalents 
is astounding. Unisys' ES7000 server, for instance, offers 
216,000 times the speed and 7.6 million times the memory of the 
Univac while consuming one-eighteenth as much power and just 
1/24th of the Univac's weight. But even with such advances, 
computers remain both a blessing and a curse, a fact that led 
Unisys to mark Univac's 50th birthday by issuing an apology for 
the resulting inconveniences that sometimes outweigh the 
benefits. "For all the data, for all the analysis, for all the 
processing, they still don't help us understand," Unisys VP Guy 
Esnouf says of modern computers. "It's still just as difficult to 
make a decision." - Tony Kontzer
 
 

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