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War and Technology

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I recently finished reading the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Hillenbrand, 2010) about the life of an American POW during World War II, Louis Zamperini. It is an amazing read and I recommend all to pick it up. It is a beautiful story of life, determination and forgiveness. If you don’t read, please go see the movie.

As a veteran of the US Air Force, it really struck home to me on a number of fronts, but especially as a technology professional. Reading about the technology of the World War II era was enlightening. I was amazed to find that auto-pilot had not been invented, navigation was still primarily accomplished with a map with binoculars and communication was still accomplished via telegraphs.

I was a computer programmer in the Air Force. I enlisted just 40 years after the end of the war. We were, by then, programming on mainframes in COBOL, Fortran and IBM Assembly Language among others. We programmed sorties for the pilots to utilize on their auto-pilot and programmed routes for missiles to fly after deployed. An unbelievable advancement in technology in just 40 years! The first PC’s were just being produced and we were learning about something called UNIX and Storage Area Networks.

Now, some thirty years after enlisting, we are talking about the Internet of Things, Smart wearables and Big Data. First National Technology Solutions (FNTS) recently started deploying Solid State storage devices on a large scale. When I left the Air Force, I was given a platter from our storage array as a going away present. The platter came from a 3380E device which offered five gigabytes of storage capacity and was the largest capacity DASD of its time. We now have Terabytes of data available in one unit.

What will the next 40 years of advancements bring? I really can’t even begin to speculate, but I am sure my children will look at our current technology and be just as amazed as I was at the simple technology of World War II.

Hillenbrand, Laura (2010): Unbroken. Random House Publishing Group