Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tech Marches. And Marches. Where Does It Go To?


As the article says, 60 years ago we only had vacuum tubes, which would make a computer such as this laptop I'm typing this on, around about the size of half the CBD of Perth. Considering that the image to the left contains vacuum tubes about as high as a lipstick and not quite twice the diameter (so you can imagine the scale) and is probably less than 1k of memory...


In just over fifty years we've gone from technology that barely managed to amplify whispers, to machines that we now take for commonplace, such as my laptop, and supercomputers in a case the size of an old PC tower.
Fifty years ago when I was a baby, my grandparents, going to the city of Vienna for the first time to visit their daughter, my mother, made the sign of the cross each time mum turned on an electric light. A few years later they were watching black & white TV, and a few years after that, colour TV.
Thirty-eight years ago I was avidly hooking together vacuum tube radios and tape decks and getting electric shocks and wishing I had some of those new fangled solid state devices, those transistors. They were well beyond the pocketmoney of a kid, but a few years later I worked with aircraft avionics and built a 4bit computer with 1024 BITS (not bytes!) of memory from a kit.
Thirty-and-some years ago, I bought a ZX-80 computer that was twenty to fifty times faster and more powerful, in a quarter of the size. Since then, progressivley better and better machines, to the point where a PDA which is one tenth to one twentieth the size of my first homebrew computer packs quite a few orders of magnitude more processing power and millions of times more memory.
Current designs will allow the processing power of a supercomputer cluster, in a device the size of a PDA or small tablet PC. And beyond that?

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