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Published on Apr 19, 2011
Recorded: June 2, 1980
A native of Nebraska born in 1918, Jay Forrester went to MIT in 1939 and spent his entire career there. He worked first on pioneering control systems and computers, and in 1956 switched to management studies.
In this June 1980 talk at The Computer Museum in Boston, Forrester describes the 1946-1953 development of the Whirlwind computer in detail: its history, purpose, architecture, technology, reliability, and influence on subsequent designs and companies. He explains the problems with the initial storage-tube memory, and the "desperate search for better memory" that led to the development of magnetic core memory. He outlines the transition of Whirlwind from an aircraft simulator to a real-time control computer that presaged the SAGE air-defense system. He talks amusingly of the difficulty in doing technological prediction, and of the role of the military and MIT's "colorful personalities" in pioneering innovation.