Extravagantly haired social theorist and raconteur Malcolm Gladwell made his return to the TED conference with this heartwarming story of the Norden bombsight, a revolutionary device designed to make carpet-bombing a little less indiscriminate circa World War II.
Costing some $1.5 billion to develop – a staggering amount in the 1930s – the bombsight was in essence an early analogue computer: a bafflingly complex sequence of levers and pulleys welded to a rapidly moving B-17.
A devout Christian, inventor Carl Norden had hoped that his bombsight would reduce civilian suffering during wartime. However, the device’s one notable success came when the US Government stuck it on the Enola Gay and used it to destroy Hiroshima. The story is a pertinent lesson on the often-unexpected outcomes of human ingenuity and a timely reminder not to give your prize technology to the U.S. Government.