The Machine That Changed the World

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The Machine That Changed the WorldThe Machine That Changed the World is the longest, most comprehensive documentary about the history of computing ever produced, but since its release in 1992, it's become virtually extinct. Out of print and never released online, the only remaining copies are VHS tapes floating around school libraries or in the homes of fans who dubbed the original shows when they aired.

It's a whirlwind tour of computing before the Web, with brilliant archival footage and interviews with key players — several of whom passed away since the filming. Jointly produced by WGBH Boston and the BBC, it originally aired in the UK as The Dream Machine before its U.S. premiere in January 1992. Its broadcast was accompanied by a book co-written by the documentary's producer Jon Palfreman.

Episodes: 1. Great Brains, 2. Inventing the Future, 3. The Paperback Computer, 4. The Thinking Machine, and 5. The World at Your Fingertips.

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Ratings: 7.90/10 from 10 users.

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22 Comments / User Reviews

  1. uh huh

    So, yeah. Sweet doc.

  2. Mart

    very cool, interesting doc. glad to see how computers escaped from initially being death machines (military funded experiments) into the hands of innovators and futurists.

  3. byte

    this is already HISTORY

  4. Chris

    No mention of IBM or their supply of computers to the Nazis which were used to efficiently gather information on the jews?

  5. KronosDeret

    pretty frikking acurate predictions by the way :)

  6. Tacit

    Chris = Frown, make your own documentary then.

  7. dwagginhugs

    aww isnt old internet so adorable!

  8. Marc

    In part 2, they mention that the Eckert and Mauchly patent was ruled invalid, but not why. The reason was the Eckert and Mauchly were a little fast and loose with claiming the prior art of others as their own. No mention is made of John Vincent Atanasoff, who invented the first "special purpose" electronic digital computer years before ENIAC. He also came up with binary adders, and regenerative memory (albeit the memory was electo-mechanical).

    @Chris...um, how do you figure that? IBM didn't get into the computer business until well after the end of WWII.

  9. justarb

    @Marc, Atanasoff didn't actually produce a working machine. Not only that, but his device was a specialised calculator, not a programmable, general purpose computer. And his device wasn't entirely electronic - it was partly mechanical. The Eckert/Mauchly patent was mainly ruled invalid because it was filed too late - they dithered about too much and filed the patent years after ENIAC had been publicly unveiled and missed the patent office's deadline by a significant margin. Eckert (or was it Mauchly?) had devised a regenerative memory device independent of Anatasoff. Oh, and ENIAC was not a binary machine - it was a base-10 machine, so Anatasoff's binary adders had no place in the computer.

  10. Rich.

    FYI, The pop-up are annoying--best turned off. This is a good documentary that doesn't need additional annotation. It reminds me of the kid in the class that raises his hand constantly.

  11. dan

    oh what I came here to say! I REALLY WISH THEY WOULD DO ANOTHER PART OF THIS SERIES!

  12. KarpKomet

    this is amazing..i remember this doc from when i was a kid. sorry to hear its so rare. prob my fav science doc of all time. just insanely well done

  13. 0zyxcba1

    One of the best documentaries here at TDF.

  14. Joel Atienza

    If you want yo know the prenatal of the computer, I recommend you watch this...This is sublimely informative..

  15. Amber

    good job Vlatko!

  16. Mona l

    The best documentary about computing!
    Though I am disappointed for a no-mention of Steve Wozniak's genius of hooking a typewriter's keyboard and a TV screen to the computers.
    But thanks nonetheless

  17. Ben Grimer

    Part 1 should be titled "Giant Brains" not "Great Brains".

  18. JoGo Equipment

    Great details on the beginning of computing, how does this story end ?

  19. Bdweller

    double post due to registration.

  20. Bdweller

    "It’s a whirlwind tour of computing before the Web, . . . " The last episode, "The World At Your Fingertips", deals mostly with the "web", and it's short falls in some cases.

  21. Bdweller

    What was the title for the original BBC series, not being confrontational, just curious. I didn't know how much others liked this series, I thought I was just being GEEKMAN, or GEEKIN'ATOR! (That's what my ex-wife said anyway.)

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