Developments at the Man-Machine Interface

  • Donald B. McIntyre
Part of the Computer Applications in the Earth Sciences book series (CAES)


Because early computers were expensive and had small memories, attention had to be given to using them efficiently, although this made computer languages cumbersome and unnatural for the human beings who used them. Computer programming had little connection with the development of mathematical concepts.

A summary of the evolution of computer hardware shows that the power available for a fixed price has increased dramatically. Changes in computer languages and in operating systems have gone along with changes in hardware. As computers have become larger and cheaper, more of the operating system has been transferred to control storage. Scheduling of the use of computer resources, which used to be an important responsibility of a human operator, is to an ever increasing extent taken over by the machine itself. The complicated paging that is performed to make efficient use of main memory and auxiliary storage is transparent to the users, who therefore are freed to work on the problems that are their proper concern.

Implementation of the concepts of virtual storage and virtual machines allows many users to work simultaneously as if each had access to a dedicated computer with a larger memory than possessed by the real machine. This, combined with terminals that do not interrupt the central processor unnecessarily, has been an important trend in the past ten years. Terminals now are capable of full-screen displays, which can be modified anywhere on the screen. Card decks have become obsolete.

The most important development in language design has been the implementation of the APL language, which continues the historical evolution of mathematical notation. Its power comes from its use of functions and operators (which are distinguished from one another), from its extension of primary or primitive functions (represented by single symbols), from its emphasis on the use of arrays and the avoidance of much of the apparatus of control statements that characterize most of the other languages, and the use of workspaces in which the user defines the environment. Although APL was considered expensive and inefficient on early computers, this view is no longer justified, especially today when emphasis must be on conserving skilled human resources. APL is supported by all the major computer manufacturers and can be obtained on some desk-top computers.

The development of Viewdata systems, notably the British Post Office’s Prestel, is bringing computer technology into the homes of those who have not considered purchasing home computers. This trend will decrease significantly the resistance to computers that is engendered by fear of the unknown.

Online bibliographic searching has become a tool of major importance in scientific research. The use of Geo.Ref, GeoArchive, SCI, and SSIE are especially noted. The growth of nonbibliographic online data bases has raised the problem of how these can be indexed and made more generally available.

I conclude that students of geology must know how to use computers if they are to work effectively in a world in which technology is changing so quickly. The developments at the man-machine interface seem never to have been so exciting or so vitally important.


Virtual Machine Main Memory Virtual Storage Pomona College Real Memory 
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

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald B. McIntyre
    • 1
  1. 1.Pomona CollegeUSA

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