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The Closed World

The Closed World:
Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

The sensors — shaped like twigs, jungle plants, and animal droppings — were designed to detect all kinds of human activity, such as the noises of truck engines, body heat, motion, even the scent of human urine. When they picked up a signal, it appeared on the ISC’s display terminals hundreds of miles away as a moving white “worm” superimposed on a map grid. As soon as the ISC computers could calculate the worm’s direction and rate of motion, coordinates were radioed to Phantom F-4 jets patrolling the night sky. The planes’ navigation systems and computers automatically guided them to the “box,” or map grid square, to be attacked. The ISC central computers were also able to control the release of bombs: the pilot might do no more than sit and watch as the invisible jungle below suddenly exploded into flames. In most cases no American ever actually saw the target at all.

The “worm” would then disappear from the screen at the ISC. This entire process normally took no more than five minutes.

the first chapters of The Closed World are online:
the closed world

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