Magazine article Information Today

A New Partner for the Illogical Mind

Magazine article Information Today

A New Partner for the Illogical Mind

Article excerpt

This is the Year of the Rooster and the decade of the fifth paradigm of the computer. "The era of the traditional supercomputer has ended, and a new age in supercomputing is just beginning," announced Edward R. McCracken, president and CEO of Silicon Graphics, Inc.

On January 27, in Washington, DC, during a symposium held to introduce "The Revolution in Supercomputing," McCracken introduced a new computer line that SGI claims puts the power of up to 18 Cray Y-MP class supercomputers in a single RISC-based system.

The paradigm shift in supercomputing might well change both the computer industry and the technical computing community. More important, it can broaden the types of problems to which supercomputing can be applied. The change could fundamentally alter the way supercomputers are used and by whom.

Several relatively recent technological developments are responsible for the introduction of the RISC Supercomputer and the arrival of what Larry Smarr, Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, has called "deployable supercomputing." Dr. Smarr, one of the speakers, also commented that we need to build systems to interact with virtual reality as we do with physical reality.

Paradigms Old and New

In his keynote address Arno Penzias described the new computer paradigm in which the computer is like a human being, in fact, almost superhuman. It employs a strategy that humans often use which is, simply, what did I do last time? This is not logical processing but rather, pattern matching. Dr. Penzias, who also chaired the symposium, is AT&T Bell Laboratories vice president for Research and a Nobel Prize winner.

He reviewed the four preceding paradigms of the computer, each of which filled almost a decade. First, in the 50s, was the computer as a numerical calculator with dits desk calculator heritage. Second, in the 60s, was the computer as a data processor which offered an extension to text. Here the computer was a massive record keeper that reinforced paper work and was the hallmark of large-scale organizations. The computer also strengthened the behavior mode of information moving up and down within the organization.

The third paradigm, in the 70s, was the minicomputer with monitor/controller. This was the first use of dedicated computers. It displaced mechanistic manufacturing and made an impact on our world, not just our society. Computers could be devoted to more than one task; they became smaller in size; and they offered a platform for quality improvement measurement and allowed for feedback.

We saw the fourth paradigm in the 80s. The personal assistant is a PC application enabler which almost anyone in the world can have. It offers proliferation of "intelligence" and a platform for the client-server model.

Today all computers can process text and images. All computers have an impact on our society, with some unexpected results. And there are logical framework restrictions, all are limited to a logical process. But, as Penzias emphasized, the last thing we need is logical problem solving. We are now looking for machines to solve problems the way people do, for example, matching the human's question: what did I do the last time this happened?

New Paradigm Needs; Technology Enablers

The new paradigm addresses a number of needs:

* User comfort with conversational interfaces

* Productivity enhancement, moving beyond paper work

* More synergy between people and computers with similar problem-solving approaches

* Complexity management in terms of computing, even in the home at the VCR level

In the new paradigm there is a large power boost from parallelism--many microprocessor chips are harnesses together and specialized operations are parallel on a single chip. …

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