To Any Question, The Answer Is ...
YOU may read otherwise in the newspapers, but the computer machine was really invented in 1919 by Llewellyn Haversfield Dudleyson of Perkins's Misery, a location in our Maine town of Pebblesville. Mr. Dudleyson was known to his neighbors as Kookly Lew.
He was a nut. His machine was complicated, but basically had two drums which revolved in opposite directions. One contained all the facts and the other all the questions. Above, on the frame of the machine, was a red light which came on when the rotating drums matched the question with the answers, and Kookly could then reach into a spout and get the information. At first, however, Kookly had not properly interrelated the speed of the drums, and no matter what question he submitted to the machine, he alw ays got the same answer - 32.
It made no difference. Simple, or complex - whatever he asked, he got 32.
I relate this to show that not too much has been improved since 1919. We haven't gone too far.
Not that Kookly didn't try. He spent long hours up in the loft of his barn, adjusting gears and changing belts, and when he thought he had things right he'd turn on the power and try again. He always got 32.
It was frustrating.
One day a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came to see Mr. Dudleyson, saying he, too, was working on the general idea, and perhaps they could share their efforts. Kookly was delighted at this recognition. He said he had just that moment realigned his ratios, and he believed the new adjustment had solved things. "Be my guest," he said.
The professor remarked that a useful computer ought to perform as well on the simplest problems, as well as on the very difficult, and for experimental purposes it made little difference if the question were easy or not.
"Let's try a small problem," he said. So he jotted down, "8 x 4 = ?," and thrust the paper into the spout.
Instantly, out came the answer - 32.
It was a blow from which Kookly never recovered. He gave up; a broken man.
At Christmas, in the golden year of 1944, I gave my wife an automobile, and the insurance policy on it ran from Dec. 24 to June 24. It has been renewed every six months since, with the same company, changing from car to car as we got new models. Then, over 20 years ago, I got myself a pickup truck and it was added to the same policy, still with the same company. However, since I use a pickup only in the summer, I would run it into the back of the barn on Nov. 1, hoist it onto blocks, and ask to have the public liability deleted until May 1. Our Maine motor vehicle laws have permitted this, and I save a little money. In the meantime, my insurance company had acquired its computerized efficiency.
All I've got, ever since, is 32.
You see, my policy runs from Dec. 24 to June 24, and from June 24 to Dec. 24. Accordingly, the insurance company refunds me the difference every Nov. 1, and I send it back to them every May 1. Every effort on my part to get the dates adjusted, so I pay the whole thing on Nov. 1 and again on May 1, has brought me the assurance that this cannot be done. There is no way, I have been told regularly as the nuisance continues, that the dates can be changed.
I believe this must be true, because in spite of my repeated protests, the dates have not been changed. Here is a mighty insurance company, equipped with the finest electronic marvels, and they don't have one thing that works for me any better than Kookly Lew's pioneer drums that always put forth 32.
Let me not leave this topic without making an important point. We all liked Llewellyn Haversfield Dudleyson. He was a good fellow to have around Perkins's Misery. He amused us. He invented a good many things in his time, none of which worked, and it was stimulating to visit with him and see what he was up to. Everything he thought up, even if it didn't work, was meant to be good. It was not Kookly's ambition to make people mad at him, and certainly not in his mind to argue that something simple couldn't be done.