The SAGE air-defense project transformed computers from mathematical labor savers into decision-makers by proxy, and spawned the first elements of "postmodern management." Then, the Atlas missile program brought together the disparate elements of the military-industrial-university complex and demanded new, less hierarchical control over individual subprograms. This new way of thinking brought engineers such as Dean Wooldridge and Simon Ramo to prominence.
Hughes follows these developments in systems engineering closely as they were applied to ARPANET and Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Along the way those projects encountered both the simplifying synergy and maddening political slowdowns involved with not just a handful of problems, but entire communities of messy problems. Readers discouraged by seemingly inflexible barriers to solving complex social and technical problems can take heart after reading Rescuing Prometheus. This book shows that while we still can't fix the world, we're building better tools to do so every day. --Rob Lightner
As a study in management, the book begins its coverage of managerial evolution with the development of systems engineering. Systems engineering reduced much of management to scientific principles and was critical to the successful interaction that created SAGE. However, later projects proved that the strict science of systems engineering failed when the system to be engineered included a large human element. Hughes shows how a flattening of the management structure and the enhanced use of diverse teams enables the continuing Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project to proceed. Not only does that plan allow for the wide diversity of human interaction but it embraces it. Project management relies on continuing input from all facets of Boston's social and political scene to shape the project as it develops.
Hughes celebrates the role that idealism, as well as creativity, has often played in technological achievements. In today's sociopolitical environment, when many people look upon military-based research and development with a jaundiced eye, it's easy to forget that such projects as SAGE and the Atlas missile were driven by an idealistic belief in the need to protect our society from what was then perceived as a clear danger from a declared enemy.
Hughes's step-by-step examination of how each project team met its challenges is both thought-provoking and insightful. If the Dilbert's-eye view of technology and management has become a bit too depressing, here's a book that reminds us that we are capable of anything. --Elizabeth Lewis