– THE COMPUTER –
With a tremendous roar from its rocket engine, the satellite is sent up into the sky. Minutes later, at an altitude of 300 miles, this tiny electronic moon begins to orbit the earth. Its radio begins to transmit a staggering amount of information about the satellite’s orbital path, the amount of radiation it detects, and the presence of meteorites.
(This article was written in 90’s )
Information of all kinds races back to the earth. No human being could possibly copy down all these facts, much less remember and organize them. But an electronic computer can. The marvel of the machine age, the electronic computer, has been in use only since 1946. It can do simple computations – add, subtract, multiply, and divide – with lightning speed and perfect accuracy.
It can multiply two 10-digit numbers in 1/1,000 second, a problem that would take an average person five minutes to do with pencil and paper. Some computers can work 500,000 times faster than any person can.
Once it is given a ‘program’; that is, a carefully worked-out set of instructions devised by a technician trained in computer language, a computer can gather a wide range of information for many purposes. For the scientist, it can get information from outer space or from the depths of the ocean. In business and industry, the computer prepares factory inventories, keeps track of sales trends and production needs, mails dividend checks, and makes out company payrolls. It can keep bank accounts up to date and make out electric bills.
If you are planning a trip by plane, the computer will find out what route to take and what space is available. Not only can the computer gather facts, it can also store them as fast as they are gathered and can pour them out whenever they are needed. The computer is really a high-pov/ered ‘memory’ machine that “has all the answers” – or almost all.
What is the most efficient speed for driving a car through the New York-New Jersey tunnels? What brand of canned goods is the most popular in a particular supermarket? What kind of weather will we have tomorrow? The computer will flash out the answers in a fraction of a second. Besides gathering and storing information, the computer can also solve complicated problems that once took months for people to do.
For example, within sixteen hours an electronic brain named CHEOPS (which stands for Chemical Engineering Optimization System) solved a difficult design problem. First, it was fed all the information necessary for designing a chemical plant. After running through 16,000 possible designs, it picked out the plan for the plant that would produce the most chemical at the lowest cost. Then, it issued a printed set of exact specifications.
Before CHEOPS solved this problem, a team of engineers having the same information had worked for a year to produce only three designs, none of which was as efficient as the computer’s. At times computers seem almost human. They can ‘read’ handprinted letters, play chess, compose music, write plays, and even design other computers.
Is it any wonder that they are sometimes called ‘thinking’ machines? Not even computers can predict the future, but the benefits of computers are becoming more obvious every day.
a) Computers are being used in space travel. Rockets, satellites and spaceships are guided by computers.
b) Computers are being used in aviation. They are used in the training of airline pilots. Computers also direct the flight of planes from one city to another, control their air speeds and altitudes, and even land them.
c) Computers are being used in medicine. They are used in analyzing blood samples, in diagnosing disease, and in prescribing medication.
They also keep records of the tissue types of patients waiting for organ transplants. Even though they are taking over some of the tasks that were once accomplished by our own brains, computers are not replacing us – at least not yet. Our brain has more than 10 billion cells. A computer has only a few hundred thousand parts. For some time to come, then, we can safely say that our brains are at least 10,000 times more complex than a computer. How we use them is for us, not the computer, to decide.
1. What was the name of the electronic brain that designed the chemical plant?
2. How long did it take CHEOPS to work out the design problem?
3. What kind of information was CHEOPS fed?
4. What plan did it pick out?
5. How long had a team of engineers been working on the same information?
6. What is guided by computers?
7. What uses do computers have in aviation?
8. How do computers help doctors?
9. How many cells does the human brain have?
10. How many times more complex are our brains than a computer?