Leon Bagrit -The Age of Automation:

   (Fragments from Leon Bagrit's BBC Reith Lectures 1964)

1.0 Automation an Extension of Man:

Poverty and Riches:
But even today, in spite of the high standard of living which has become general in the more fortunate West, the majority of people in the world still spend nearly all their time and energy in a never-ending struggle with nature to secure the food and shelter they need. Even in this elementary effort millions of human beings die each year from hunger, disease, or flood.........

........with the advent of the new phase of  science and technology,  which we call automation, we have the promise both of greater leisure and and even greater material and intellectual riches.

But this is not inevitable, it depends on automation being adequately exploited..........

Communication, Computation, and Control:
.............I could attempt an explanation, if not a definition, by saying that it is a concept through which a machine system is caused to operate with maximum efficiency by means of adequate measurement, observation and control of its behaviour. It involves a detailed and continuous knowledge of the functioning of the system, so that the best corrective actions can be applied immediately they become necessary.

Automation in this true sense is brought to full fruition only through exploration of its three major elements, communication, computation, and control -the three 'Cs'. I believe there is a great need to make sure that some, at any rate, of the implications to our society of the three 'Cs' in combination are recognized and understood. That is the purpose of these lectures.........

Improving Humanity:
.......It is not a question of machines replacing men; it is largely a question of extending man's faculties by machines that, in fact, they become better men, more competent men..........

Misleading Associations:
....The word 'automation' has unfortunately gathered so many wrong and half-wrong associations that I myself have become wary of using it -or at any rate wary about to whom and in which context I use it. I am dissatisfied with it, because it implies automaticity and automaticity implies mechanization, which in turn implies unthinking, repetitive motion, and this, as I have just tried to show, is the exact opposite of automation.

Machine Slaves:
........Today, if we know where we are going and if we use the slave services of automation intelligently and courageously, we have the chance of building a really high civilization for ourselves. And when I say 'for ourselves'; I mean the whole community, not just for a small elite on the Greek pattern. This is the essential purpose of automation.

2.0  The Range of Applications:

Spreading Understanding:
It is essential for our future national prosperity in Britain that we should modernize this country, by spreading an understanding of the most advanced forms of technology as rapidly as we can and throughout the whole of our society. We must somehow induce industrial concerns to adopt these new techniques quickly and intelligently, and we must make sure that our universities, our technical colleges and our schools are mobilized to produce the people with the background, the training, and the inclination which is necessary to bring this about. We must also see to it that the correct political decisions are taken to make it easier, not more difficult, to realize these aims......

War Games:
......One of the most terrifying uses of computers is for war games, the idea being that the military can safely and sensibly use the use computers to play at nuclear war. This is a substitute for the old game of playing at war on maps.If you lay down formal criteria for a win then, of course, this is a fair game, but nobody knows what constitutes a win in a nuclear war, or if today a win for either side is even possible. Anyone who is foolish enough to believe he has conquered the secrets of winning a nuclear war because he has discovered the tricks of winning a battle on the computer, is a most dangerous man.

This is merely one of the threats and perversions that arise through the abuse and misunderstanding of the use of computers.......

Thought, Intelligence and Understanding;
......I hope it is clear from the examples that I have given, that automation is not simply a matter of "hardware", of machines. In none of the cases I have mentioned could one simply buy a computer and use it effectively. The successful application of automation demands a combination of right equipment for the purpose -that is to say, hardware -and adequate thought and intelligence -software. a computer system can be disastrous, if the firm or institution which has invested in it lacks the outlook and the understanding to handle it.......

Public Utility?
.....Today, most computers are so large and expensive that they are generally confined to places and situations where their capacity can be fully used. But, in the course of the next few years new techniques will enable computers to be produced so small and so cheaply that they could be carried about with no more difficulty than transistor radios. This will permit computers to be used in what, today, would be called a grossly inefficient manner.

This is one of the premises on which the American project Project Mac, is based. The United States is now spending five million pounds a year on the development of a general purpose computer which will be so easy to programme and to communicate with that its services could be made widely available as a kind of public utility. The aim of Project Mac, is to work out time-sharing techniques to enable a vast number of people to9 use a single computer simultaneously; to write master programmes that will allow people to their own sub-programming and to communicate with the computer in simple English. They are also aiming at developing a library of programmes of general usefulness. Any one of these would be immediately available through its code name.

Perhaps the most far-reaching use of the new generation of computers will be in the  retention and communication of information of all sorts within a national, possibly a world-wide, information system. This will enable decisions to be taken by people at all levels on a much more informed basis.

3.0  Education for an Age of Automation:

The Main Problem:
Our main problem in the successful application of automation is one of imagination -and I suppose I might say, of courage as well. We must make tremendous efforts to ensure that our economic and political thinking is contemporary with our opportunities and that we are not crippling ourselves with an out-of-date pattern of education.

The real problems of education are going to center on the need to develop people capable of living the fullest possible lives in an age of plenty. We shall have to produce men and women who are able to understand the significance of the past, who are in the stream of current ideas and can make use of them, and who have the quality of imagination that is capable of foreseeing and welcoming the future.........

Arts and Humanities:
......I suggest we shall find it impossible to consider anybody as adequately educated if he or she does not understand at least some science. neither shall we be able to recognize as an educated man, a technician or a scientist, however distinguished, who has failed to develop a substantial interest in the humanities and the arts, or who shows no evidence of being aware of the significance of society and his part in it.  We ought, in other words, to be making  a determined effort to produce better balanced people.......

......One of the elements in the Gordonstoun system, for instance, is that of learning to serve the local community in which you live and then expanding your interest to the nation at large. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of poverty and the allocation of resources within an atmosphere of scarcity, that to suggest this kind of education on a wide scale will immediately produce the comment, 'This is all very well if you can afford it'. But I believe we shall be able to afford it, because the successful exploitation of technology is going to be the greatest wealth-creating power yet seen on earth. There will undoubtably be argument about whether we should allocate most of our new wealth to the development of the twenty-five percent most intelligent members of the population, or whether we should aim at raising the standards of the remaining seventy-five percent. My own feeling is that both are well within our reach, and there is no need to make sacrifices of one for the advantage of the other.

The two vitally important things to aim at are a genuine breadth of education and a sense of social and human responsibility. We must keep these as our top priorities.......

.....The need to produce broadly trained, adaptable people will become increasingly important at all levels, but special attention, perhaps, should be given to the education of our future leaders in government, industry and commerce.

The traditional scientific disciplines are in the process of  breaking down into many smaller sub-disciplines. Biology, for instance, has become no more than a broad term for a whole complex of biological studies and sub-studies. Exactly the same is true of physics and of chemistry. Specialization has become fragmentation, to the point where to describe a man as a biologist is hardly any more meaningful than to describe someone as a writer........

Common Communication?
If scientists themselves cannot talk intelligently to each other because they find it difficult to understand each other's technical language, how can you expect mutual understanding between the scientist and the humanist?

Communication Problems:
This sad fact is becoming increasingly true in government, in the Civil Service, in business, in the trade unions, and among other people whose influence and views determine the course of society. Hitherto, the political and social effect of the various scientific disciplines has been limited.It could be dealt with by a man who was well educated in the humanities and who utilized the knowledge of the scientist while retaining complete control over him.  This is now difficult and in the future it will be almost impossible. During the last war Winston Churchill said he wanted scientists 'on tap but not on top'. He was probably right, provided that the non-scientist was able to understand the language of the scientist and was capable of interpreting it and, from that point onwards, to make intelligent decisions, because after all, the reason for having the scientist on tap was to enable intelligent decisions to be made at a dangerous and difficult time.

Dangerous Times:
These dangerous and difficult times will occur much more frequently in the future and this during a period when the complexity of science and technology is growing in an unprecedented fashion. In these circumstances a wrong decision could have far reaching and dangerous consequences........

(Un)Trustworthy Leadership:
.....I would not trust the management of the nation's affairs to men who had no first-hand knowledge of what was happening in this quickly changing world, and who did not understand the language of technology. But, I do not want the world to be run by scientists and technologists, because science and technology are of value only as the servants of society. I want to see at the head of affairs basically educated men, science-orientated humanists. They must understand the values of mankind, they must have a view of history and a view of the future. They should have a very strong flavour of science about them, but not enough to turn them into scientists.

Interdependent World:
It is not only in Britain that there should be men trained in this way. The Germans and the Russians, the French and the Chinese and the Americans are going to need a top-level education of this type just as badly. I think that everywhere in this interdependent world, the danger of not having these sort of people at the helm will be increasingly felt......

4.0  Some Political Conciderations:

5.0  Some Industrial and Economic Consequences:

6.0  New opportunities for Social Enrichment:

Leon Bagrit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Sir Leon Bagrit (13 March 1902-22 April 1979) was a leading British industrialist and pioneer of automation.

Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Kiev, Sir Leon studied at the University of London, formed his own company in 1935, and for many years headed the revamped firm of Elliott-Automation Ltd., which, outside the United States, was the largest computer manufacturer in the world.

He was a member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, 1963-1965 and the Advisory Council on Technology, 1964-1979. He was a director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1962-1970. He founded the Friends of Covent Garden, and chaired it, 1962-1969. He was Reith Lecturer, 1964.

The Bioengineering department of Imperial College London was named the Sir Leon Bagrit centre in his honour in 1991, after the Bagrit Trust provided funding for it to be built.

Gordonstoun School
, in North East Scotland, was founded in 1934 by the pioneering educationalist Dr Kurt Hahn, who also inspired Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the United World College of the Atlantic. <http://asto.org.uk/gordonstoun.htm>

..... it is highly regarded and can lay claim to being among the finest schools in the independent sector in the UK today. In fact it probably ranks alongside Eton and Harrow as to its fame overseas, having educated three generations of British royalty. Wikipedia Gordonstoun: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordonstoun>

Leon Bagrit: The Age of Automation
(BBC Reith Lectures 1964)
Pelican Books 1966

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