Jay Forrester & The Digital Revolution
In September of 1945, Jay Forrester sat in Gordon Brown’s office for a meeting that Brown had requested. World War II had ended a few weeks before, and most of the wartime engineers in MIT’s RAD Lab and Brown’s Servomechanisms Lab were quickly emptying out, either returning to pre-war jobs or setting out on entirely new careers.
Forrester had plans to leave as well, but Brown hoped that his 27-year-old engineering protégé would stay on. Brown had a plan.
When the two met, Brown rather quickly handed Forrester a piece of paper upon which were written a dozen projects that his Servomechanisms Lab had been contracted to pursue.
Forrester, who respected Brown very much and enjoyed working for him during the war, was thrilled that he was thought of so highly as to have moved Brown to hand him a list of every project at the Lab…and simply asked to choose any one he so desired. Forrester thought Brown’s offer was remarkable and extraordinary; he was taken by the sincerity of it, and pleased as well to be wanted and needed.
Soon after arriving from Nebraska in 1939, Forrester had gone to work for Brown; and from 1940 onward had taken on a series of engineering projects of ever-increasing difficulty and importance. Forrester had shown himself to be a brilliant engineer, and had succeeded at every challenge that had come his way.
Brown admired his talent and drive, and wanted to put it to good use in his Servomechanisms Lab.
Forrester looked the list over, reflected upon it for a moment, and then made his decision. He chose the analog flight trainer project that was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
He was given lab space, a good budget, two years to complete the project, and was allowed to handpick his engineering staff.
New Book & Companion Podcast
Forthcoming, Fall 2019
See the video trailer: The Untold Story of Everything Digital
The Bright Boys legacy continues…
“A fascinating story of how it felt to be present at the creation of the Information Age…”
—Paul Ceruzzi, author of A History of Modern Computing (MIT Press)
“A+: This is how a computer history book should be written. It’s an amazing history of MIT in the 1940s and 1950s around the invention of the computer.” —Brad Feld, Technology Review
Celebrating the 70th Anniversary 1949-2019
Bright Boys 2010 vs. 2019
The 2010 edition of Bright Boys told the story about the making of Information Technology 1938 to 1958; The Untold Story of Everything Digital revisits Bright Boys to hone in on the critical decade 1945-1955 when Forrester and his bright boys birthed the digital age.
Loaded with new writing, research, insights, interviews, and historical portraits of the times and its technology, The Untold Story of Everything Digital, subtitled Bright Boys Revisited, is a celebration of one of the greatest moments in the history of technology…led by one of its most brilliant pioneers, Jay Forrester.
Jay Takes Over
In the hands of anyone else, engineering the flight trainer would have adhered to and followed ONR requirements and specifications, and would have been completed in a timely fashion and delivered to the sponsor.
In Forrester’s hands, however, the analog flight trainer would never come to be. Rather, the metal training seat, its gears and electrical control box, would unexpectedly morph into something completely different; mainly, the world’s first general purpose, electronic digital computer.
Neither Forrester nor any of his youthful staff had any previous experience building anything even remotely similar to a digital computer. However, Forrester felt certain that the machine could be built…and that it would change the world. Every member of his staff felt that Forrester was capable of most anything he set his hands to, and soon thereafter all of them would become true believers in his vision and zealots in the nascent rise of digital computing.
What followed next was the amazing journey of Jay Forrester and his team of sassy, brilliant engineers, who, in a single, white-hot decade of fantastical invention, made the world go digital: 1945-1955.
The Untold Story…
The Untold Story of Everything Digital, both as a new book release and as an 8-part podcast series (fall 2019), recounts those ten years of remarkable pioneering when the word digital was new on the ear and digital transformation suddenly burst from science fiction to reality…for the very first time.
And if Forrester and his bright boys needed a sign of encouragement along the way—a momentum change—that their technical pursuit wasn’t as foolhardy as most everyone else thought it was, then that moment was 1949, when near magically everything seemed to tumble together into a resoundingly jubilant high five.
2019 is the 70th anniversary of the world going digital for the very first time. A truly notable occasion on which to share the telling of the untold story of how it all came to be.