On Distributed Communications Series

XI. Summary Overview

Postscript - A Possible Pitfall

There is the human tendency for those who would suggest new systems to overstate the value of their projects and to understate the problems.

The writer believes that he has called attention to the individual technical problems as they have arisen within each of the Memoranda describing the system. However, there are still a few problems that are not so specifically elucidated.

These are not technical problems in the usual sense, but will probably be the key problems which will set the upper bound upon the speed of development of the proposed system. They include: the limited diffusion of technical competence in the computer/communications art; a very human fear of "complicated" systems; the right of free access between existing communications networks; etc.

We would like to discuss briefly one of these key problems. In this series we have proposed a radically different communications system--one that started with a difficult military goal and has been shown to require complex equipment to satisfy a large set of military "needs."

We have discussed a new large communication system, one markedly different from the present in both concept and in equipment, and one which will mean a merging of two different technologies: computers and communications. People with competence in both these fields are not numerous. Our concern is whether we will have enough well-trained people capable of understanding both the communications and digital computer techniques to make this venture a success. Here may lie the real question of feasibility. Our present-day components are fully adequate. The difficult problems lie in hooking them together.

This is not to say that there will be a dearth of organizations happy to bid on providing such a system on a cost-plus-fixed-fee basis. There may even be some foolhardy enough to have a go at a fixed cost (banking on the returns from the inevitable engineering changes to bail them out). The skills that we need are exactly those which are most heavily advertised in the help-wanted pages of our newspapers and magazines. Thus, where we can go and what we can do may be substantially limited by the breadth and extent of our computer technology manpower base.

Historically, we upgrade the level of responsibility of each of the engineers on a "Big-L" military electronics project--or fracture the project into enough small pieces, in hopes that sheer numbers of warm bodies alone will make up for an acknowledged lack of technical foundations.

But, in the development of a system of this type, numbers alone will not substitute for competence.

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