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The Electronic Digital Computer

  • Louis A. Girifalco

Abstract

For most people, arithmetic is not an exciting thing to do. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing have no intrinsic interest and are dull mental exercises. The only ability a digital computer has is to perform these basic arithmetic operations and to execute elementary logic by comparing numbers. And yet, computers have totally altered the nature of modern society. Mathematics, the sciences, education, war, manufacturing, transportation, insurance, publishing, finance, engineering design, agriculture, mining, entertainment; indeed every field of human activity has been, and continues to be, profoundly altered by computers. The changes attending the computerization of the world are not merely quantitative or incremental in the sense that we simply do what we did before more rapidly or more efficiently. The changes are also qualitative, in the sense that totally new capabilities are opened up and the way we think is being transformed. This is clear to everyone, and there is no point in providing a detailed exposition here, but two general developments must be mentioned that illustrate the power of computer technology in reshaping our world. The first is that instantaneous worldwide transmission of information and large-scale data processing capacity, coupled with cheap and rapid transport, is creating the first truly worldwide interdependent economy. The implications of this are just beginning to be appreciated, and the way political and social institutions respond to such widespread integration in a world of nation states will affect the welfare of all. The second general development is that computers give us the capacity to deal with complexity to a much greater degree than ever before. This capacity affects everything we do. Complex scientific problems that could not be addressed before are no longer intractable. Manufacturing, inventories, process control, and industrial optimization can be dealt with at an unprecedented level of complexity and sophistication. Computers make it possible to adopt the systems mode of thought, in which there are many related functions among interacting parts. We are no longer restricted to a linear, Newtonian approach in which there is a simple chain of causes and effects.

Keywords

Electronic Computer Digital Computer Vacuum Tube Electronic Computing General Purpose Computer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Van Nostrand Reinhold 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louis A. Girifalco
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of PennsylvaniaUSA

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