[TUHS] Bell Labs data center in 1969/70

Arthur Krewat krewat at kilonet.net
Mon Mar 18 05:39:37 AEST 2019

This kind of telephone history always get my "phreak" up ;)

On 3/17/2019 2:52 PM, Ralph Corderoy wrote:
> Hi Steve,
>> For a long time, California was viewed as hostile to phone companies,
>> or at least AT&T, and I remember clearly people saying that Bell Labs
>> would never have a location in CA as a result.
> Here's what Larry Luckham told me in a private email that he's since
> said could be copied to the list.
> Larry wrote:
>> Of the thousands of web pages that I have posted the one of the Bell
>> Labs photos is the one that generates a dozen queries a year.  Had no
>> idea that would be the case when I posted it.  The photos are also the
>> most ripped off and reposted of anything I've ever done.  But, to your
>> points.
>> The facility I set up in Oakland was temporary and for a specific
>> experiment that ran for roughly 4 years.  You may recall that
>> beginning in the mid 60's the Bell System was experiencing a huge and
>> unpredicted demand for 411, information operator services.  The lead
>> time to provide the trunking and other facilities for 411 operations
>> was something like 25 years.  The public facing response was the "$55
>> million dollar phone call" ad campaign intended to point customers
>> back to printed directories.  The inward facing response was to figure
>> out a way to handle each request for service faster so that the
>> existing trunking and other facilities could meet the growing demand.
>> At that time information operators relied on printed directories much
>> the same as the customer's printed directory, except that theirs were
>> loose leaf, reprinted monthly, and supplemented with a yellow daily
>> addendum.  They were also printed in a larger format to make reading
>> easier.  A division of the Labs called Business Information Systems
>> Corp.  out of the Raritan River Center was tasked with the project and
>> given a very short timeline.  A computer database and electronic
>> display terminals driven by a very powerful search engine was the
>> result.  Special operator terminals were designed and built by Western
>> Electric.  The search engine was contracted out to Computer Corp. of
>> America (CCA) which had been founded by some guys from Minsky's AI lab
>> at MIT.  Then the idea was to try it out in a live environment.
>> The San Francisco Bay Area was selected as reasonably representative
>> and that's where I came in.  I was already managing the data center at
>> the local Bell company, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph,
>> San Francisco, so I was recruited to make it happen.  I built the
>> mainframe data center, PT&T provided space in an information operating
>> room a few blocks away and CCA came onsite to do the programming.
>> The testing ran roughly 4 years.  I had moved on before it ended, but
>> it was successful and was implanted, at least to some degree, but this
>> shop was dismantled and everyone went home.  Then technology did what
>> it always does, it ran over everything and changed the world.
>> Along came the PC, the Internet, smart phones, etc.
>> It's been a very long time and I'm sure I've forgotten, or
>> misremembered stuff, but that's kind of what I remember.
>> Hope it sheds some light.

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