Leon Bagrit -The Age of Automation:
(Fragments from Leon Bagrit's BBC Reith Lectures 1964)
1.0 Automation an Extension of Man:
Poverty and Riches:
But even today, in spite of the high
standard of living which has become general in the more fortunate West,
the majority of people in the world still spend nearly all their time
and energy in a never-ending struggle with nature to secure the food
and shelter they need. Even in this elementary effort millions of human
beings die each year from hunger, disease, or flood.........
Communication, Computation, and Control:
........with the advent of the new phase of science and
technology, which we call automation, we have the promise both of
greater leisure and and even greater material and intellectual riches.
But this is not inevitable, it depends on automation being adequately exploited..........
.............I could attempt an
explanation, if not a definition, by saying that it is a concept
through which a machine system is caused to operate with maximum
efficiency by means of adequate measurement, observation and control of
its behaviour. It involves a detailed and continuous knowledge of the
functioning of the system, so that the best corrective actions can be
applied immediately they become necessary.
Automation in this true sense is brought to full fruition only through
exploration of its three major elements, communication, computation,
and control -the three 'Cs'. I believe there is a great need to make
sure that some, at any rate, of the implications to our society of the
three 'Cs' in combination are recognized and understood. That is the
purpose of these lectures.........
.......It is not a question of machines
replacing men; it is largely a question of extending man's faculties by
machines that, in fact, they become better men, more competent
....The word 'automation' has unfortunately gathered so many wrong and
half-wrong associations that I myself have become wary of using it -or
at any rate wary about to whom and in which context I use it. I am
dissatisfied with it, because it implies automaticity and automaticity
implies mechanization, which in turn implies unthinking, repetitive
motion, and this, as I have just tried to show, is the exact opposite
........Today, if we know where we are
going and if we use the slave services of automation intelligently and
courageously, we have the chance of building a really high civilization
for ourselves. And when I say 'for ourselves'; I mean the whole
community, not just for a small elite on the Greek pattern. This is the
essential purpose of automation.
2.0 The Range of Applications:
It is essential for our future national
prosperity in Britain that we should modernize this country, by
spreading an understanding of the most advanced forms of technology as
rapidly as we can and throughout the whole of our society. We must
somehow induce industrial concerns to adopt these new techniques
quickly and intelligently, and we must make sure that our universities,
our technical colleges and our schools are mobilized to produce the
people with the background, the training, and the inclination which is
necessary to bring this about. We must also see to it that the
correct political decisions are taken to make it easier, not more
difficult, to realize these aims......
......One of the most terrifying uses
of computers is for war games, the idea being that the military can
safely and sensibly use the use computers to play at nuclear war. This
is a substitute for the old game of playing at war on maps.If you lay
down formal criteria for a win then, of course, this is a fair game, but
nobody knows what constitutes a win in a nuclear war, or if today a win
for either side is even possible. Anyone who is foolish enough to
believe he has conquered the secrets of winning a nuclear war because
he has discovered the tricks of winning a battle on the computer, is a
most dangerous man.
Thought, Intelligence and Understanding;
This is merely one of the threats and perversions that arise through
the abuse and misunderstanding of the use of computers.......
......I hope it is clear from the
examples that I have given, that automation is not simply a matter of
"hardware", of machines. In none of the cases I have mentioned could
one simply buy a computer and use it effectively. The successful
application of automation demands a combination of right equipment for
the purpose -that is to say, hardware -and adequate thought and
intelligence -software. a computer system can be disastrous, if the
firm or institution which has invested in it lacks the outlook and the
understanding to handle it.......
.....Today, most computers are so large
and expensive that they are generally confined to places and situations
where their capacity can be fully used. But, in the course of the next
few years new techniques will enable computers to be produced so small
and so cheaply that they could be carried about with no more difficulty
than transistor radios. This will permit computers to be used in what,
today, would be called a grossly inefficient manner.
This is one of the premises on which the American project Project Mac,
is based. The United States is now spending five million pounds a year
on the development of a general purpose computer which will be so easy
to programme and to communicate with that its services could be made
widely available as a kind of public utility. The aim of Project Mac, is
to work out time-sharing techniques to enable a vast number of people
to9 use a single computer simultaneously; to write master programmes
that will allow people to their own sub-programming and to communicate
with the computer in simple English. They are also aiming at developing
a library of programmes of general usefulness. Any one of these would
be immediately available through its code name.
Perhaps the most far-reaching use of the new generation of computers
will be in the retention and communication of information of all
sorts within a national, possibly a world-wide, information system.
This will enable decisions to be taken by people at all levels on a
much more informed basis.
3.0 Education for an Age of Automation:
The Main Problem:
Our main problem in the successful
application of automation is one of imagination -and I suppose I might
say, of courage as well. We must make tremendous efforts to ensure that
our economic and political thinking is contemporary with our
opportunities and that we are not crippling ourselves with an
out-of-date pattern of education.
The real problems of education are going to center on the need to
develop people capable of living the fullest possible lives in an age
of plenty. We shall have to produce men and women who are able to
understand the significance of the past, who are in the stream of
current ideas and can make use of them, and who have the quality of
imagination that is capable of foreseeing and welcoming the
Arts and Humanities:
......I suggest we shall find it
impossible to consider anybody as adequately educated if he or she does
not understand at least some science. neither shall we be able to
recognize as an educated man, a technician or a scientist, however
distinguished, who has failed to develop a substantial interest in the
humanities and the arts, or who shows no evidence of being aware of the
significance of society and his part in it. We ought, in other
words, to be making a determined effort to produce better
......One of the elements in the
Gordonstoun system, for instance, is that of learning to serve the
local community in which you live and then expanding your interest to
the nation at large. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of
poverty and the allocation of resources within an atmosphere of
scarcity, that to suggest this kind of education on a wide scale will
immediately produce the comment, 'This is all very well if you can
afford it'. But I believe we shall be able to afford it, because the
successful exploitation of technology is going to be the greatest
wealth-creating power yet seen on earth. There will undoubtably be
argument about whether we should allocate most of our new wealth to the
development of the twenty-five percent most intelligent members of the
population, or whether we should aim at raising the standards of the
remaining seventy-five percent. My own feeling is that both are well
within our reach, and there is no need to make sacrifices of one for
the advantage of the other.
The two vitally important things to
aim at are a genuine breadth of education and a sense of social and
human responsibility. We must keep these as our top priorities.......
.....The need to produce broadly
trained, adaptable people will become increasingly important at all
levels, but special attention, perhaps, should be given to the
education of our future leaders in government, industry and commerce.
The traditional scientific disciplines
are in the process of breaking down into many smaller
sub-disciplines. Biology, for instance, has become no more than a broad
term for a whole complex of biological studies and sub-studies. Exactly
the same is true of physics and of chemistry. Specialization has become
fragmentation, to the point where to describe a man as a biologist is
hardly any more meaningful than to describe someone as a writer........
If scientists themselves cannot talk
intelligently to each other because they find it difficult to
understand each other's technical language, how can you expect mutual
understanding between the scientist and the humanist?
This sad fact is becoming increasingly
true in government, in the Civil Service, in business, in the trade
unions, and among other people whose influence and views determine the
course of society. Hitherto, the political and social effect of the
various scientific disciplines has been limited.It could be dealt with
by a man who was well educated in the humanities and who utilized the
knowledge of the scientist while retaining complete control over
him. This is now difficult and in the future it will be almost
impossible. During the last war Winston Churchill said he wanted
scientists 'on tap but not on top'. He was probably right, provided
that the non-scientist was able to understand the language of the
scientist and was capable of interpreting it and, from that point
onwards, to make intelligent decisions, because after all, the reason
for having the scientist on tap was to enable intelligent decisions to
be made at a dangerous and difficult time.
These dangerous and difficult times
will occur much more frequently in the future and this during a period
when the complexity of science and technology is growing in an
unprecedented fashion. In these circumstances a wrong decision could
have far reaching and dangerous consequences........
.....I would not trust the management
of the nation's affairs to men who had no first-hand knowledge of what
was happening in this quickly changing world, and who did not
understand the language of technology. But, I do not want the world to
be run by scientists and technologists, because science and technology
are of value only as the servants of society. I want to see at the head
of affairs basically educated men, science-orientated humanists. They
must understand the values of mankind, they must have a view of history
and a view of the future. They should have a very strong flavour of
science about them, but not enough to turn them into scientists.
It is not only in Britain that there
should be men trained in this way. The Germans and the Russians, the
French and the Chinese and the Americans are going to need a top-level
education of this type just as badly. I think that everywhere in this
interdependent world, the danger of not having these sort of people at
the helm will be increasingly felt......
4.0 Some Political Conciderations:
5.0 Some Industrial and Economic Consequences:
6.0 New opportunities for Social Enrichment:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sir Leon Bagrit (13 March 1902-22 April 1979) was a leading British industrialist and pioneer of automation.
Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Kiev, Sir Leon studied at the University of London, formed his own company in 1935, and for many years headed the revamped firm of Elliott-Automation Ltd., which, outside the United States, was the largest computer manufacturer in the world.
He was a member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial
Research, 1963-1965 and the Advisory Council on Technology, 1964-1979.
He was a director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1962-1970. He founded the Friends of Covent Garden, and chaired it, 1962-1969. He was Reith Lecturer, 1964.
The Bioengineering department of Imperial College London was named the Sir Leon Bagrit centre in his honour in 1991, after the Bagrit Trust provided funding for it to be built.
, in North East Scotland, was founded in 1934 by the
pioneering educationalist Dr Kurt Hahn, who also inspired Outward
Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the United World College of
the Atlantic. <http://asto.org.uk/gordonstoun.htm
..... it is highly regarded and can lay claim to being among the finest
schools in the independent sector in the UK today. In fact it probably
ranks alongside Eton
as to its fame overseas, having educated three generations of British royalty. Wikipedia Gordonstoun: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordonstoun
Leon Bagrit: The Age of Automation
(BBC Reith Lectures 1964)
Pelican Books 1966
Listen to Historic Reith Lectures