In the sixth chapter of his 2010 book The Computer Boys Take Over, Nathan L. Ensmer looks back at the 1957 movie Desk Set within the context of 1950s computing and the fear that one day we’d all be replaced by machines.
What is less widely remembered about Desk Set is that it was sponsored in part by the IBM Corporation. The film opens with a wide-angle view of an IBM showroom, which then closes to a tight shot of a single machine bearing the IBM logo. The equipment on the set was provided by IBM, and the credits at the end of the film — in which an acknowledgment of IBM’s involvement and assistance features prominently — appear as if printed on an IBM machine. IBM also supplied equipment operators and training.
The IBM Corporation’ s involvement with Desk Set was more than an early example of opportunistic product placement. Underneath the trappings of a lighthearted comedy, Desk Set was the first film of its era to deal seriously with the organizational and professional implications of the electronic computer. In the midst of the general enthusiasm that characterised popular coverage of the computer in this period crept hints of unease about the possibility of electronic brains displacing humans in domains previously thought to have been free from the threat of mechanization.
You can read the rest of chapter 6 from the book here. [pdf]
Image: Screenshot from the 1957 film Desk Set