The electronic brains are coming


Our treasure from the archive reveals just how closely the fears and visions of past generations resemble the debate over digitalization.

“Are they the masters of the future who will establish a system of power that rules over the intellectual slavery of human beings?” OSRAM’s employee magazine posed this provocative question in 1969 in reference to computers, which were also known as “electronic brains” at the time. While the term sounds outdated and almost quaint today, it was one of the official expressions in computer vocabulary in the early days.

 

Even though computers were not yet part of standard business equipment in 1969, OSRAM encouraged its Berlin-based employees to delve into electronic data processing by taking part in new training courses. The magazine promptly gave a very reasonable response to the provocative claim of an “invasion of soulless powers into the last preserve of personal freedom,” calling it an absurd accusation. The authors explained that the computer should be seen as a tool that can free our minds from “exhausting and tedious tasks unfit for this highly sophisticated organ.” They predicted that the computer would become as perfectly commonplace as the telephone within a decade.

 

OSRAM was in fact one of the first companies with its own computer setup following the IFA trade show for consumer electronics in 1983. The company’s executive management team already realized back then that the use of modern information technology is “a key weapon against the competition” that needs to be deployed consistently and at the right time in order not to lose in the fight over market position. Some words are as true today as they were more than 30 years ago.