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Christmas computer selects ‘the perfect gift’

The Story

When time is short and the gift list is long, what's a busy Christmas shopper to do? In 1962, big department stores are helping with a "Santa monster" - an IBM computer that will suggest gifts based on personal traits of intended recipients. In this clip from the CBC Radio program Assignment, the computer operators explain how they work and disagree when reporter Jim McLean asks: "Don't you think that this ruins the spirit of Christmas, to have the gifts chosen by a machine?"

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Dec. 4, 1962
Host: Bill McNeil
Reporter: Jim McLean, Joelle Pearson
Duration: 6:20
Photo: Courtesy of IBM Archives

Did You know?

• According to an article about the Christmas computer at Simpson's in Toronto (headlined "Wacky Monster Aids Desperate Christmas Shoppers"), the computer also played Christmas carols and drew pictures of Santa.

• Simpson's employee Frances Cook spent six weeks choosing the 3,000 gifts that could be suggested by the computer and deciding what sort of people those gifts would suit. For each query, the machine supplied 10 gift ideas.

More on this computer can be seen in this Take 30 video clip.




Computer Invasion: A History of Automation in Canada more