41
The Computerized World

Part 1

A generation ago, during World War II, the electronic numerical integrator and computer (ENIAC) was built at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was the wonder of the world; the first fully electronic computer, an "artificial brain." It weighed 30 tons and took up 1,500 square feet of floor space.It contained 19,000 vacuum tubes, used up as much energy as a locomotive, cost three million dollars, and solved problems too complicated for human beings (and did so at enormous speed).

Now one generation has passed; one generation, a little over thirty years.

The rickety, unreliable, energy-guzzling vacuum tubes are gone. They were replaced by solid-state transistors, which, as the years passed, were made smaller and smaller and smaller. Finally, tiny chips of silicon, a quarter-inch square, as thin as paper, daintily touched with traces of impurities here and there, are made into compact little intricacies that are fitted with tiny aluminum wires and joined to make microcomputers.

For three hundred dollars, from any mail-order house, at almost any corner store, one can now get a computer that consumes no more energy than a light bulb, is small enough to be held in the hand, and can do far more than ENIAC, twenty times faster and thousands of times more reliably.

Still, from year to year, these microcomputers grow more flexible, more versatile, and cheaper. Almost anything can now be computerized, so that changing environmental conditions can be taken into account and the workings of a device adjusted instantaneously to suit. Watches, vending machines, pinball games, traffic signals, automobile engines can be outfitted to observe, remember, and respond in a way that will maximize efficiency and adjust to changing conditions.

-214-

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