Why Should We Care About the Failure of the British Computing Industry?

Speaker: Marie Hicks
Date recorded: Apr 19, 2017
Marie Hicks talks about her latest book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing.

Marie Hicks draws on the example of our closest historical cousin–the UK– to look at the ways in which computing initiatives often go wrong in unexpected ways at the national level. In 1944, the UK led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. This talk will outline the systematic processes deployed by the UK government to enhance the nation’s technological superiority–and through that its global political standing–and discuss why these efforts went disastrously wrong. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the ways the US is currently falling prey to similar errors of judgement in its attempts to leverage computing technology as an engine of social and economic change.

Marie Hicks is an assistant professor of history of technology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Her work focuses on how gender and sexuality bring hidden technological dynamics to light, and how women’s experiences change the core narrative of the history of computing. Hicks’s book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing is available from MIT Press (2017). For more information, see programmedinequality.com. Hicks received her MA and Ph.D. from Duke University and her BA from Harvard University. Before entering academia, she worked as a UNIX systems administrator.