By the 1960s, IBM had beaten all rivals and dominated the world computer market. But IBM came late to the race. From the 1930s to the 1960s, small, independent teams on four continents worked on the development of the first modern computers. From interviews with surviving members of those original teams, the author builds up a picture of the eccentric men and women who laid the foundations for the computerised world we now live in, recreating the atmosphere of those early days. Some of the early projects, such as "LEO", the Lyons Electronic Office, developed by the catering company J Lyons and Co in London in the 1940s, are now famous, others, such as the RAND 409, constructed in a barn in Connecticut under the watchful eye of a stuffed moose, almost unknown. This fascinating and engaging book describes these and other projects that came and went in the years before IBM ruled the world, including the Phillips Hydraulic Economics Computer, or MONIAC, which perfectly demonstrated the workings of the economy by way of coloured water flowing through plastic tubes and the UNIVAC, which became a household name when, live on television, it correctly predicted the results of the 1952 US presidential election.
I am a radio producer, photographer and author with a first career of 17 years as an aerospace engineer and over 20 years since as a maker of features, documentaries and other programmes mostly for BBC Radio 4. And that is how my first book "Electronic Brains" came about -- in 2001 I made my first series as an independent producer, one of four people who had just set up "Pennine Productions".
That series was four quarter-hour programmes about some of the early computer pioneers, aimed at the general listener and much more of a social history about these people and the sheer enthusiasm and inventiveness they brought to their work. A publisher from Granta Books heard the series and suggested I write a book, and that is what happened.
Mostly since then I've mostly been making radio programmes, now for our successor company "Square Dog Radio", though I'm hopeful of writing another book soon, on an entirely different subject. More news soon, maybe!