Three anti-technology forces in society are now coming together and uniting under the banner of software in their rearguard battle against the rising power of technology and the technocracy. These forces are, first, the bureaucracy; second, management; and third, the pure scientist.
My twenty years experience in ten companies in Britain and the U.S.A. indicates that there is deep hostility and fear between manager and technocrat. Currently the manager holds the upper hand and fights a nervous rearguard action against the rising technocrat.
In the early days, a factory was owned by the man who managed it, controlled it and understood all the details of its operation. Later in the industrial revolution, business and industry became larger and more complex, and the owners began to lose detailed knowledge of their operation. The introduction of the joint stock limited liability company allowed ownership to be fully divorced from understanding. A professional managerial class developed which knew all the details and was therefore able to make the crucial decisions.
Power passed from the owners to the management, because as J.K. Galbraith says in 'The New Industrial State; power is where the most complex decision making is. Whereas nominally the owners, the stockholders, still had control, in reality because of their ignorance they could only 'ratify' decisions made by the management. In his book 'The Practice of Management' Peter Drucker describes how Henry Ford behaved like an industrial Canute when he tried to keep power out of the hands of his professional management, virtually bankrupting his company in the process. Today, as Henry Ford showed, stockholders can only obstruct the actions of a company's management, nothing more.
The latest shift is in high technology industry, where the most complex problems and decisions are technological, so that power should now move from management to the technocracy. We can see bitter battles during the transfer of power, re-enacting what occurred in the Ford company during the previous transfer of control from owner to manager. For example, during my first year  in one computer company [which designed, manufactured and sold computers], all employees within the design department who had more than four years of design experience were driven out of the company. Also, it was common to categorise all engineers above a certain level of qualification and experience as temporary (contract engineers), the idea being that a manager can have someone working for him at more than his own salary provided he is described as temporary.
The generally near-bankrupt condition of most high technology industries can be attributed to the Canute-like rearguard action by management against a new rising power elite, the technocracy. This bankruptcy is both financial and technological. High technology industry not only loses money at an unprecedented rate; it also fails to innovate to any significant degree. We must look through the barrage of propaganda to the reality in order to see this.
The Henry Ford syndrome affected only some companies during the previous transfer of power. The reason why the present transfer from management to technocracy is so much more acrimonious is because management, already badly paid in Britain, look forward to a greatly circumscribed role in the future, short on money and prestige; very much the role of the doorman at the swank hotel.
According to Galbraith, after a transfer of power to the new group who make the most complex decisions, the old, declining group can only act obstructively. For example, Henry Ford obstructed the work of his rising managerial class. Today, similarly, the declining managerial class obstructs the work of the rising technocracy.
In the past, management would wax enthusiastic about simplistic pseudo-technical questions - for instance the alleged brilliance of the technically ignorant Weinstock, head of G.E.C., Britain's biggest high technology company, when he demanded of his chief engineer that he reduce the number of valves (tubes) in the television they manufactured from three to two. As background to the story, it did not need to be said that the chief engineer, being technical, would not know, firstly that two valves cost less than three, and secondly that a cheaper television would sell better.
Onto the scene of this rearguard battle comes software, a simplistic new pseudo-technology with no technical content, administered by programmers who are as ignorant as management when it comes to engineering. (Virtually no so-called 'computer science' degree courses in Britain contain any physics or engineering.) The arrival of software is a heaven-sent aid to management in its battle to limit the work of the technocracy, particularly because software, the modern clerk's job, is in fact low level management work.
It is in the interest of both management and of programmers to play down and limit technology, and they do this by developing the myth that software is technical, possibly the new technology, putting around such false phrases as "software engineering", "information technology", although software has no engineering content and the information industry has no technical content, and employs almost exclusively programmers with no knowledge of engineering or even of school physics.
It is a simple matter for the new management-programmer axis to ensure that no new product will be allowed which does not contain at its centre a general purpose (Von Neumann) computer, so ensuring that every product or activity in the future will mimic the data processing systems of the past on which both today's manager and today's programmer cut their teeth. As the cost of such a machine falls, the technically ignorant programmer, egged on by the technically ignorant manager, infiltrates deeper and deeper into the work of the engineer and freezes it into one particular structure - a structure which is very expensive in software overhead, is very unreliable, and also runs very slowly. Since the machine runs slowly, having at its core a slow microprocessor, more and more engineering activity has to be off line rather than real time, and the divorce from physical reality, always the objective of the bureaucrat, gathers pace. As in the past the bureaucrat would function in a false, simplistic model of reality, so the new, slow, off line machine functions in a false, simplistic model of reality. Pressure is then put on reality to conform, and this pressure is exerted by programmers without knowledge of reality, that is, without knowledge of physics or engineering.
Software is the weapon which the bureaucracy uses to infiltrate into the heart of technology in order to control it and stop it from developing.
In Britain, after many years of inaction, the government recently pumped large amounts of money into what it called 'the microelectronics revolution'. All of this money has now been subverted into teaching a whole generation how to program, always in the language called 'Basic', which is the language most far divorced even from the reality of the old Von Neumann computer. None of the government subsidy to our industry found its way into hardware or engineering.
Most of you will not know what I mean by 'Von Neumann Computer'. It means a machine where one instruction is obeyed at a time and the use of content addressable memories, also called associative memories, is not allowed. [Bringing this up to date, processing within memory is not allowed. Ivor Catt 18oct02.] Most of you will not know what a content addressable memory is. It is a memory where you can call up words of a certain type, rather than, as in R.A.M., having to call for a word by its physical location.
Most software techniques turn out to be devices to make up for the lack of a content addressable memory [refusal to allow parallel processing within memory].
In the 1940's, unlike today, it was technically very difficult to build a content addressable memory [or an array processor], so the Von Neumann team did not include one in their machine. Today we refuse to use them because the ancients did not use them.
So far, we have seen that the bureaucracy and also management in industry join forces with software in order to subvert and control technology and stop it from advancing.
Up to the present time another quite distinct battle has been fought between the pure scientist and the technocrat. You will all be familiar with this battle, between sacred scientific search after truth on the one hand and profane technological search after profit on the other. In the range from sacred to profane, pure mathematics stands at the most sacred end of the spectrum, then comes applied math, then physics, then engineering. Now the mathematician, being divorced from the profit motive, found it difficult to make a living. However, a decade or two ago, some of these technology free individuals stooped to programming in order to earn a crust. They discovered that a lack of knowledge of physics and engineering was no handicap, that programming had no technical content, so, reassured, they called themselves 'computer scientists' (although programming is not a science) and talked about such things as 'cybernetics', the 'information revolution', and so forth. Without realising it, they were exploiting the fact that the limited technologies of the 1940's and 1950's had led to a very awkward machine, the Von Neumann computer, which required the services of large numbers of clerics (programmers) to get useful work out of it.
The fact that out of work mathematicians took up programming meant that software ended up on the side of pure science in its century old battle against profane applied science.
Programmers managed to get inside the colleges in Britain and the U.S.A., something digital electronics has still today failed to do [still true in 2002] , and set up departments in what they called 'computer science', which must be a false name because in such departments no science or computer hardware is taught, only programming. Further, entrants to such university departments are not required to have any qualification in physics or engineering.
In Britain, the bureaucracy is populated at its upper levels by the old pre-industrial ruling class, and by tradition they despise management in industry. However, the class origins of the bureaucracy are widening, and both the bureaucracy and management in industry see software as a useful weapon to fend off the growth of technology.
Software unites three previously separate groups, the bureaucracy, management, and the pure scientist, all of whom are opposed to technology.
If we want to prevent such a powerful anti-technology axis to develop, we must ensure that at least the upper levels in the programming industry have some knowledge of technology so that they will come to think in terms of using it rather than merely fear it as a threat. In the British context, this would be achieved by legislating against any college giving a degree in 'computer science' if the course contained no scientific or technological material, as is the case in virtually all computer science degrees today. There is no possibility that the present industry, containing as it does personnel 98% of whom have no knowledge of technology, will be able to exploit the gigantic potential of digital electronics into the future
The nature of information
In 1964 Marshall McLuhan discussed the massive increase in the flow of electronic information, and developed the idea that in the future this information would be an important commodity to be bought, sold and processed. For him, information was any signal of any kind. However, today, the so-called 'information industry' restricts information to verbal information, a sequence of words and numbers. This restriction in the type of information we are willing to handle cuts us off from the massive potential service that digital electronics offers us.
To illustrate the point, I shall ask a question. Let us suppose that an aircraft is flying along, sending out radar pulses which bounce off other aircraft, or off the ground, and return. Are the returning pulses information? If they are, if follows that an 'information technologist' or 'computer scientist' must be qualified in technology, or the industry will not be able to relate to its potential. If however the returning pulses are not information, then we need to set up a new industry, and 'electronic signal' industry, which will have far greater prospects in the future that the small, bureaucracy oriented `information industry°. In general, electronic signals will cause machinery to act, and only rarely will these signals be 'verbalised' and put into a form which can be outputted on a line printer or processed by a Von Neumann-type computer program. Our present insistence that signals should all be of the Von Neumann computer input and computer output form is hampering our development and turning our industry into a mere adjunct of the bureaucracy.
J.K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State,pub Houghton, Mifflin, Boston,
Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management, pub. Harper & Row, New York, 1954
I. Catt, Computer Worship, pub Pitman, London, 1973, p48.
I. Catt, Dinosaur among the data?, New Scientist, 6 March 1969
I. Catt, Wafer-Scale Integration, Wireless World, July 1981, p57-59
I. Catt, South Sea Bubble about to burst?, Computer Weekly, London, 3 Nov. 1977
M.J. Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, Cambridge University Press, 1981
ASI conference, Utrecht
S Y LLAB U S
september en 1 oktober 1982
Leergang, georganiseerd door de Afdeling / Sectie Informatietechniek van het Koninklijk Instituut van Ingenieurs en het Nederlands Genootschap voor Informatica
I N H 0 U D S 0 P G A V E