The IRS uses computers?! The horror!

Vintage 1960s era short film shows IRS defending its use of computers

It's impossible to imagine the Internal Revenue Service or most other number-crunching agencies or companies working without computers.  But when the IRS went to computers  -- the Automatic Data Processing  system --there was an uproar. The agency went so far as to produce a short film on the topic called Right On The Button, to convince the public computers were a good thing.

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From today's National Archives blog on the topic: "When the IRS began using computers in 1961, many people were horrified. An article in Harper's Magazine titled, "The Martinsburg Monster: A True Horror Story for Taxpayers," described how computers limited the possibilities for refunds. A tax expert then envisioned a scenario in which erroneous notices forced people to overpay, or $100 million dollars in unwarranted refund checks were issued.

The shift towards computer technology also made Internal Revenue Commissioner, Mortimer Caplin, a well-known and controversial figure. One reporter accused Caplin of "bringing Big Brother into everyone's life in the form of the Martinsburg Monster." In February 1963, Caplin was the cover story of Time magazine, in which he supported the changes made under his administration. Controversy surrounding the IRS computers was not limited to water cooler conversations, it was reflected in the mass media."

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The National Archives says of the film: "Right on the Button attempts to combat these technology driven fears. The film highlights the benefits of a computerized system: Computers could speed up processing times, discover errors taxpayers make against themselves, and verify that all citizens pay a fair amount. Additionally, the film emphasizes the IRS employees who maintain and check the ADP system. This was likely an attempt to quell fears that computers would replace human jobs.  Viewers today are more likely captivated by the refrigerator-size computers and 1960s hairdos."

Cool stuff regardless of the hairdos.

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