In the 1950’s, the United States and the USSR were both competing to develop the first nuclear fusion bomb. However, scientists in both countries faced a similar problem: you really can’t perform nuclear fusion experiments in a laboratory because it requires enormous amounts of heat and pressure (think: the Sun), so everything had to be calculated theoretically. So the USSR, being the USSR, decides to pull hundreds of thousands of their math professors and mathematicians and college math majors, and then give each guy a specific math/physics problem to solve. Colleges started accepting more physics and math majors, just so they could dedicate more of these idiots to their massive grunt-work operation. At the same time, there was no apparent link between problems to any larger goal because, well, they had to keep things secret. The US, on the other hand, didn’t have this free grunt-labor system available so they invested in “electronic calculating machines” and did their number-crunching on those instead.
Hah. Programmers: kicking your ass since 1950. Man, I should really get back to my IA..