Launching IBM And Oracle, Interactive TV And Internet TV – Forbes
This week’s milestones in the history of technology include the birth of the Difference Engine, IBM, Oracle, and interactive-turned-internet TV.
June 12, 1906
John Balance is granted US patent No. 823,022 for “combined phonograph and stereopticon,” documenting a method for synchronizing sound with film.
June 13, 1993
The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times report that Time Warner Inc. (“the nation’s largest media company”), Tele-Communications Inc. (“the largest cable operator”), and Microsoft Corp. (“the largest personal computer software publisher”), are expected to announce a new joint venture called Cablesoft. The Los Angeles Times:
If formed, the new venture would be a potent force in the coming move to combine the worlds of entertainment, computing and communications.
At stake is control of the so-called cable converter box that sits atop television sets and regulates the flow of cable programming. Although cable sets are currently equipped with such boxes, their sophistication is expected to dramatically increase with the advent of interactive television.
With interactive TV, viewers would depend on the box to handle their orders for dial-up movies, at-home shopping and a host of new programs and services that would emerge to fill up to 500 channels that cable operators expect to be offered by the end of the century.
Six weeks earlier, the World Wide Web was released into the public domain. About a year later, in May 1994, the first World Wide Web conference was held. That was also the month in which Cablesoft was finally launched. And within a decade and a half, interactive TV became internet TV.
And now, the internet is replacing TV as the primary source of media consumption.
June 14, 1822
Charles Babbage reads to the Royal Astronomical Society a paper entitled “Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables” in which he proposes the construction of the Difference Engine. Considered to be a precursor of modern computers, it was designed to speed-up the production of error-free mathematical tables, just as early modern computers did. In 1991, London’s Science Museum completed the construction of the first-ever working model of the Difference Engine, under the direction of Doron Swade and Alan Bromley. Swade wrote in his 2000 book, The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer:
This book is a tale of two quests. The first is Charles Babbage’s quest to realise a vision—that the science of number could be mastered by mechanism. By simply turning the handle of his massive calculating engine Babbage planned to achieve results which up to that point in history could be achieve only by mental effort—thinking. But this was not all. Calculating engines offered a tantalizing new prospect. The ‘unerring certainty’ of mechanism would eliminate the risk of human error to which numerical calculation was so frustratingly prone. Infallible machines would compensate for the frailties of the human mind and extend its powers…
The second quest is the twentieth-century sequel: The quest at the Science Museum to build a working Babbage engine in time for the bicentenary of Babbage’s birth.
June 16, 1911
The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company is incorporated. It changed its name to IBM in 1924. In “Ideas make IBM 100 years young,” IBM’s Bernard Meyerson writes: “…if you really think about what keeps a company going, it’s that you have to keep reinventing yourself. You cannot reinvent yourself in the absence of great ideas. You have to have the great ideas, and you have to follow them through.” Meyerson equates the great ideas that sustain the life of a company with great innovations but in “1100100 and counting,” The Economist quotes Forrester Research’s George Colony: “IBM is not a technology company, but a company solving business problems using technology” and concludes:
Over time [the close relationships between IBM and its customers] became IBM’s most important platform—and the main reason for its longevity. Customers were happy to buy electric “calculating machines,” as Thomas Watson senior insisted on calling them, from the same firm that had sold them their electromechanical predecessors. They hoped that their trusted supplier would survive in the early 1990s. And they are now willing to let IBM’s services division tell them how to organise their businesses better.