Systems, Experts, and Computers

Systems, Experts, and Computers: The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After

Agatha C. Hughes
Thomas P. Hughes
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 520
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    Systems, Experts, and Computers
    Book Description:

    After World War II, a systems approach to solving complex problems and managing complex systems came into vogue among engineers, scientists, and managers, fostered in part by the diffusion of digital computing power. Enthusiasm for the approach peaked during the Johnson administration, when it was applied to everything from military command and control systems to poverty in American cities. Although its failure in the social sphere, coupled with increasing skepticism about the role of technology and "experts" in American society, led to a retrenchment, systems methods are still part of modern managerial practice.This groundbreaking book charts the origins and spread of the systems movement. It describes the major players including RAND, MITRE, Ramo-Wooldrige (later TRW), and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis--and examines applications in a wide variety of military, government, civil, and engineering settings. The book is international in scope, describing the spread of systems thinking in France and Sweden. The story it tells helps to explain engineering thought and managerial practice during the last sixty years.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-27587-3
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    Thomas P. Hughes and Agatha C. Hughes

    After World War II, a systems approach to solving complex problems and managing complex systems came into vogue among engineers, scientists, and managers. In 1964, theEngineering Indexhad no entry for “systems engineering” and only two pages for “operations research,” both variations upon a systems approach. By 1969, the number had jumped to eight pages of citations for “systems engineering” and to ten for “operations research.” Enthusiasm for a systems approach peaked during the early Lyndon Johnson administration (1963–1969), after which the trajectory of advocacy moved downward in step with the reverses of the Vietnam War and the...

  4. 1 Automation’s Finest Hour : Radar and System Integration in World War II
    (pp. 27-56)
    David A. Mindell

    Examining, as this volume does, “the spread of the systems approach,” suggests that some coherent approach to systems emerged within engineering before it diffused into other disciplines such as social policy and urban planning. While Thomas Hughes has chronicled a consciousness of systems in electrical power engineering early in the century, the historical literature overall has little to say about systems engineering, and what it meant technically and politically, in the period just before it began colonizing other fields.² This chapter examines a particular set of technical and institutional developments during World War II, to show how a new instrument...

  5. 2 The Adoption of Operations Research in the United States during World War II
    (pp. 57-92)
    Erik P. Rau

    Operations research (OR) today has infiltrated such a diversity of activities, from military planning and logistical support to hospital management and airline scheduling, that even its practitioners struggle to define their field.¹ Its emphasis on mathematical modeling and computer simulation often obscures OR's relatively straightforward object: to understand and improve the use of complex socio-technological systems.²

    Systems, as we know from the work of Thomas and Agatha Hughes, are often heterogeneous, consisting not only of technological components, but also individuals and institutions.³ As a result, systems approaches like OR challenge existing boundaries and draw new ones. Thus, cybernetics dissolves the...

  6. 3 From Concurrency to Phased Planning: An Episode in the History of Systems Management
    (pp. 93-112)
    Stephen B. Johnson

    As the United States Armed Forces struggled to develop large-scale, complex weapons systems in the 1950s and early 1960s, they developed new organizational structures and tools that collectively came to be known as “systems management.” Project management and matrix management were its two fundamental “exemplars” used for organizational structures,¹ while the Program Evaluation and Research Technique (PERT) and the Critical Path Method (CPM) became the primary exemplars of tools from which many variations evolved. Within the air force, Air Force Systems Command and its predecessors led the development of new methods for the management of its weapons systems.

    This chapter...

  7. 4 System Reshapes the Corporation: Joint Ventures in the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, 1962–1972
    (pp. 113-132)
    Glenn Bugos

    Joint ventures grew increasingly popular among American corporations in each decade following 1950, and federal regulation shaped the broad contours of this growth. A wave of horizontal mergers followed World War II, as demobilized companies coped with excess capacity and led Congress to pass the Cellers-Kefauver antitrust act of 1950. This 1950 act closed a loophole in Section 7 of the Clayton Act, which had outlawed acquisition of stock in a competing company but not acquisition of productive assets. With the asset-acquisition loophole now closed, and the Eisenhower administration vigorously enforcing the Act, by the mid-1950s horizontal mergers waned—only...

  8. 5 Planning a Technological Nation: Systems Thinking and the Politics of National Identity in Postwar France
    (pp. 133-160)
    Gabrielle Hecht

    The relationships between technology and politics have been a major theme in technology studies in the past decade or more. How, we have asked, do politics shape technology? What kind of politics shape technology? How, in turn, do technological activities or artifacts shape politics? How do these relationships vary across time and place? And no less important: how should we describe, analyze, and theorize these multiple and complex relationships?

    Systems thinking in the early Cold War period provides an ideal site for deepening our investigation of these questions. This volume reveals considerable variety in the philosophies, methods, and goals of...

  9. 6 A Worm in the Bud? Computers, Systems, and the Safety-Case Problem
    (pp. 161-190)
    Donald MacKenzie

    At the heart of nearly all the large technical systems of the late twentieth century are computers. The year 1958 saw the initial operation of the first large-scale, computerized, real-time system: the multibillion dollar SAGE system, controlling North American air defenses.¹ Over the following decade, computers became central to the systems of nuclear attack and of spaceflight, and they began to be used on board civil aircraft. The experience of SAGE helped make possible the first truly large-scale commercial real-time network: the SABRE computerized airline reservations system, delivered by IBM to American Airlines in 1962.² The role of computers in...

  10. 7 Engineers or Managers? The Systems Analysis of Electronic Data Processing in the Federal Bureaucracy
    (pp. 191-220)
    Atsushi Akera

    InThe Engineers and the Price System(1921) Thorstein Veblen called upon engineers to bring about a social revolution. Writing in the midst of the radical sentiment that was spreading across the globe, Veblen weighed the possibility of revolution in industrialized countries and saw the engineer as a new agent of change. After all it was the engineer, he reasoned, who owned the knowledge and experience needed to operate modern industry. Suggesting that it ought to be natural for engineers to equate fairness with a sense of efficiency, Veblen called upon the engineer to end the exploitations of the corporate...

  11. 8 The World in a Machine: Origins and Impacts of Early Computerized Global Systems Models
    (pp. 221-254)
    Paul N. Edwards

    The idea of “the world” is probably as old as language, with as many meanings and connotations as there are cultures. For much of human history “the world” must have seemed boundless, beyond the grasp of mortal understanding. Even long after the Scientific Revolution, when “the world” had become for many an immense but finite globe, comprehending the forces that act upon it as a whole—as a system—remained for the most part beyond reach.

    Although scientists began to develop theories of world-scale processes at least as early as Copernicus, grounded empirical knowledge of geophysical features and processes remained...

  12. 9 The Medium Is the Message, or How Context Matters: The RAND Corporation Builds an Economics of Innovation, 1946–1962
    (pp. 255-310)
    David A. Hounshell

    When the United States and the former Soviet Union were deeply engaged in their Cold War arms race, the RAND Corporation emerged as the nation’s leading “think tank” devoted to national security studies. If RAND could have trademarked anything about itself, its leaders might have selected “systems analysis.” Established by the air force in 1946, RAND created systems analysis as it invented itself, and soon this new methodology and RAND became synonymous. Systems analysis brought into play numerous methodologies developed earlier (including operations research from World War II, game theory that flowed from Oskar Morgenstern and John Von Neumann’s 1944...

  13. 10 Out of the Blue Yonder: The Transfer of Systems Thinking from the Pentagon to the Great Society, 1961–1965
    (pp. 311-358)
    David R. Jardini

    Shortly after the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic weapon in 1949, the assistant director of the RAND Corporation, L. J. Henderson, wrote to Frank Collbohm, the corporation's director,

    Actions which our government may be forced to take in view of the world situation . . . may involve the necessity of some deception by us of our own population. This is of course a very touchy subject, but intuitively it seems a very important one and the inventive aspects of how to go about this are rather fascinating.¹

    RAND was then only three years old, but the World War...

  14. 11 The Limits of Technology Transfer: Civil Systems at TRW, 1965–1975
    (pp. 359-384)
    Davis Dyer

    In the late 1990s, top executives at TRW Inc., the Cleveland, Ohio—based automotive supplier and aerospace contractor, spoke enthusiastically, but also cautiously, about the company’s new ventures in “civil systems.” The term refers to a fast-growing business based on applying management expertise, software systems, and technological capabilities originally developed in the company’s work on defense programs in wholly different areas. In 1996, for example, TRW engineered a comprehensive public safety 911 response system in Atlanta for the Olympic Games. The company manages similar big, complex programs for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Energy,...

  15. 12 From Operations Research to Futures Studies: The Establishment, Diffusion, and Transformation of the Systems Approach in Sweden, 1945–1980
    (pp. 385-412)
    Arne Kaijser and Joar Tiberg

    In 1948 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the British physicist Patrick Blackett for his discoveries in cosmic radiation. Blackett, a fifty-year-old professor from the University of Manchester, was already something of a hero in his home country, not because of his scientific work, but because of his contributions during World War II to the development of operations research (OR).

    At the outbreak of the war, Blackett was asked to head a group of scientists at the Anti-Aircraft Command working on a new air defense system based on radar technology. The group improved the functioning of this system...

  16. 13 The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the TAP Project, and the RAINS Model
    (pp. 413-432)
    Harvey Brooks and Alan McDonald

    The symposium on which this volume is based included a panel discussion on IIASA, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The panel was chaired by Harvey Brooks, who has been involved with IIASA since the institute’s inception in 1972 and chaired the U.S. Committee for IIASA from 1982 to 1989. Other panelists were Howard Raiffa and Roger Levien (IIASA’s first two directors), William C. Clark (former IIASA project leader and current member of the U.S. Committee for IIASA), and Alan McDonald (executive director of the U.S. Committee for IIASA). In chapter 14 Roger Levien describes his experience in managing...

  17. 14 RAND, IIASA, and the Conduct of Systems Analysis
    (pp. 433-462)
    Roger E. Levien

    During the fifty years from the beginning of World War II to the end of the Cold War, the two previously unrelated fields of science and government operations and policy were forced together in a series of ever more intimate liaisons. What began as convenient cohabitation under the pressure of global combat—analysis of military operations—eventually matured to a somewhat rocky marriage of common interests—analysis of national and international policy issues.

    I have been privileged to participate in research and management positions over twenty-five of those years at two of the principal organizations at which the relationship developed...

  18. 15 How a Genetic Code Became an Information System
    (pp. 463-492)
    Lily E. Kay

    In the 1950s molecular biology underwent a striking discursive shift: it began to represent itself as a communication science, allied to cybernetics, information theory, and computers. Through the introduction of such terms asinformation,feedback,messages,codes,alphabet,words,instructions,texts, andprogramsmolecular biologists came to view organisms and molecules as information storage and retrieval systems. Heredity came to be conceptualized as electronic communication—akin to guidance and control systems—governed by a genetic code: four nucleotides specifying the assembly of twenty amino acids into myriads of proteins. This semiotic and linguistic repertoire was absent from molecular biology before...

  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 493-496)
  20. Index
    (pp. 497-513)