They Were There: Errol Morris’ Centennial Documentary About IBM

Last week I interviewed James Martin for my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast.

Among many other things James spent decades at IBM and was among the key people who super-charged the company’s rise to dominance during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and in the process changed the world.

During our conversation James noted the vital importance of companies such as IBM, HP, Google and Microsoft, and stressed that it was firms like those (and not governments) that deserve credit for technological innovation and progress.

Yesterday, as I watched Errol Morris‘ centennial documentary about IBM, I recalled Martin’s words about the pioneering work the company has done for the last 100 years. While the movie was most likely commissioned by IBM itself, and does not go over some of the few dark spots of the firm’s history, it does a fantastic job of presenting the numerous pivotal milestones achieved by IBM-ers. In addition, Errol Morris’ film carries his unmistakable style through and through and is nicely enhanced by Philip Glass’ original music score.

Some of the major milestones included in the film are:

  • the designing and production of the pioneering mainframe computer System 360
  • the SABRE system for airline reservations, most recently used by AMTRAK, Expedia, Travelocity and many others.
  • the design and implementation of the bar code system, which effectively put a computer into every grocery’s check stand.
  • IBM’s role in the Apollo Moon program and especially during the Apollo 13 crisis.
  • the Acorn Project which designed and produced the IBM personal computer in the 1980’s and brought PC’s into the household.
  • the Genographic Project of reconstructing the entire human family tree.

Having watched the movie I understand why James insisted on the importance of the major tech companies for the future of humanity and why people who work in places like that are so proud of it. As someone who has felt the excitement of starting with an empty box and building a working machine one-hand-picked-part-at-a-time, I can strongly associate with the excitement and pride that IBM-ers feel for their work. This is at least one of the reasons why I can proudly say:

I am a PC! And I am proud of it!

Thanks IBM!

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