In a new book, titled Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology (A K Peters, Ltd.), MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Emeritus Jay Forrester’s foreword shares insight into the school’s entrepreneurial spirit that helped launch the world of electronics and created the first real-time computer. An original member of MIT’s “bright boy” team, Forrester is a pioneer in early digital computer development and the inventor of random-access magnetic-core memory.
In his foreword, Forrester credits MIT for supporting such creativity in uncharted waters. Forrester writes, “Innovation means trying ideas outside of the accepted pattern. It means providing the opportunity to fail as a learning experience rather than an embarrassment. … An innovative spirit requires years for developing the courage to be different and calibrating oneself to identify the effective region for innovation that lies between the mundane and the impossible.”
Forrester recalls how the core team of bright boys emerged from MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory, which developed military equipment in the 1940s. Each project provided a range of experience that far exceeded that of most people in the industry, says Forrester. “It was this wealth of experience and building the personal character for innovation and entrepreneurship that produced the team that was capable of pioneering the digital frontier.”
The first real-time computer emerged through one of those projects, explains author Tom Green. Beginning as an air defense project to improve existing flight trainers, the project grew to rival the Manhattan Project in size. By the 1950s, the MIT team of bright boys had built that first computer. A few years later they turned on the world’s first digital network — and they were just getting started.
Now, the ability to listen to a CD, ride an elevator, book an airline ticket, get cash at an ATM, and even microwave a meal, can all be traced back to the MIT group’s “inner sanctum of innovation and discovery,” according to Green. He writes, “Popularly known to most as just IT, Information Technology is that high-tech panoply of computers, telecommunications, and the myriad devices that digitally connect and integrate information, equipment, and people. Beginning with the bright boys’ first information loom … these two initials have subtly and inexorably woven themselves into the fabric of our lives.”