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Electronic Brain Does Work of 300

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Article in The Shields Daily News, 17th February 1954, on LEO I.

Date : 17th February 1954

Transcript :

Electronic brain does work of 300
By Our Industrial Correspondent

A MACHINE which can almost think, and which may eventually make thousands of clerical workers redundant has, for the first time, it is claimed, been put to practical use in British industry.

The machine, a high-speed electronic calculator, has been set up at Cadby Hall, London headquarters of J. Lyons and Co. Ltd., and is at present being used mainly for calculating the wages of 1,700 workers in the bakery departments, a task which normally takes about 225 man-hours. The electronic "brain" does it in just over 40 minutes.

Although there is nothing new in electronic calculators—one has been in existence at Manchester University which, it is claimed, can play chess—they had been used mainly for scientific and abstruse mathematical calculations, and most firms have regarded them as too complicated and expensive for normal commercial use. 
The one at Messrs Lyons cost £150,000 and does the work of about 300 clerks. It was developed as it was built, and the guiding principle was that it should be adapted to suit the clerical system in use.

Two difficulties that had to be overcome were finding a method of feeding the information from which calculations are made into the calculator at high speed and finding a method of recording results rapidly.

At present the speed at which the machine works is governed by that at which results can be printed. It can be used for dealing with orders from teashops, for cost accounting, and for stock control work.

There is also a certain amount of business done in hiring out the brain to Government and other departments which want calculations done in a hurry.

The usual charge for this is £75 an hour, and the brain has been used by the Ministry of Supply for ballistic calculations, such as working out the speed and angle of rise and fall of a shell fired from a gun and for working out data concerning guided missiles.

Is it reliable? If the information fed into it is accurate it gives the correct answer - and it checks its own calculations.

It has more than 5000 valves, so that there is always a possibility of breakdown but a system of lights and cathode ray tubes tell the engineers what is going on inside so that normally faults can be traced within a few minutes.

With the knowledge that a major breakdown could send the firm’s clerical system into chaos it is intended to install a second machine as a standby.

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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH64160. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

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