The Computer Disease

The following excerpt is taken from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman:

“Well, Mr. Frankel started this program and began to suffer from a disease, the computer disease, that anybody who works with computers now knows about.

It’s a very serious disease and interferes completely with the work. It was a serious problem that we were trying to do. The disease with computers if you play with them. They are so wonderful. You have these x switches that determine, if it’s an even number you do this, if it’s an odd number you do that, and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever, on one machine.

And so after a while it turned out the whole system broke down. He wasn’t paying any attention; he wasn’t supervising anybody. The system was going very, very slowly. The real problem was that he was sitting in a room figuring out how to make one tabulator automatically print arc-tan x, and then it would start and it would print columns and then bitsi, bitsi, bitsi and calculate the arc-tangents automatically by integrating as it went along and make a whole table in one operation. Absolutely useless. We had tables of arc-tangents.

But it you’ve ever worked with computers you understand the disease. The delight to be able to see how much you can do. But he got the disease from the first time, the poor fellow who invented the thing got the disease.”

And every programmer that I know (including myself of course) have gotten the disease at least once.


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