Issue No.01 - January-March (2007 vol.29)
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MAHC.2007.7
David Grier relates an anecdote from Burroughs Research Center in which the possibility of using a computer for less-than-honorable purposes becomes a lesson. He goes on to describe the issue's contents.
The lunchroom of the old Burroughs' Research Center bore a striking resemblance to a high school cafeteria. A stage with a red velvet curtain stood at one end of the room. At the other end was the cafeteria line with steam tables for the hot dishes. The lunchroom was the one place where workers from different units could meet and mingle. Engineers would talk with accountants. Salespeople would break bread with technicians. Receptionists would compare notes with security guards.
One of these meetings conceived the Expense Report Generator. The idea probably came from Sales, which had the largest regular amount of reimbursable expenses. The idea was to have a program that would take the amount you spent on business activities and then prepare an expense report in standard company form. The program would distribute your excess expenses, the expenses for which you did not actually have a receipt, across the various categories in a way that would not draw suspicion from the comptroller's office. A colleague in my office, Dale, wrote most of the code. I contributed a couple of routines to it. For a time, it worked well and found wide application among the lower-level employees of the company. It was one of those little secret tools, one of those things employees share among themselves.
One day at lunch, I spied one of the senior salesmen sitting by himself, looking angry and sullen. In my interactions with him, I had found him to be a gregarious, confident man and hence was surprised to see him in such a state. He had been friendly to me and I had been grateful for his attention. A friend saw me looking at him and said, "You know, don't you?"
"No," I said, "What do you mean?"
"He was caught cheating on his expenses. He's been suspended for two months without pay."
"Really," I responded.
"He charged $50,000 of improper expenses."
"How did he get away with it?"
"Sometimes he invented fake receipts. Other times, he used the Expense Report Generator."
The last bit caught me by surprise. Someone I knew had been caught in a fraud and possibly he had been assisted by my work. That was when I realized computers could be used for purposes that were less than good.
At some point in our lives, most of us have recognized that computers can be used for criminal purposes. For some like myself, it is a fall from grace. For Donn Parker, it is the beginning of a new career. For this issue, he has told the story of his career and contributions to the study of computers used for crimes, most of which were far more dramatic than my first exposure to fudged expense reports. Donn was one of the first experts on the subject and we are most grateful for his contribution.
At the other end of the scale is Stewart Gillmor's account of an early computer dating program written at Stanford. It has at least a few points in common with my Expense Report Generator, in that it was a novel application for a computer at the time.
Elsewhere in this issue, we have three very different articles exploring institutions that advanced computers and computer science: Jack Minker's story about the University of Maryland, Keith Smillie's article dealing with similar issues at the University of Alberta, and an article about China's early computers by Jiuchun Zhang and Baichun Zhang. We are particularly glad to have the Zhangs' piece, as it is based on recently released documents from the 1950s.
Rounding out the issue is Zbigniew Stachniak's story about Intel's SIM8 microprocessor, a key step in developing our modern computer environment.
The revelation in the Burroughs' cafeteria was a key event in my business education, even after I learned that the salesman had stolen only $15,000. It was one of those times when you shed some of the naiveté of youth. I don't know how much of my work was actually involved in the report generator used to commit the theft. I was later assured by a friend that the thieving salesman had gotten most of the money by forging his boss's signature. Nonetheless, it taught the lesson, perhaps obvious to most, that a love of high technology does not guarantee honesty.