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This week Time welcomes its newest staff member: PDP-11/34. Programmed according to Time's design, PDP-11 /34 will speed the handling of the hundreds of queries and reports that flow between the home office in New York City and our 28 bureaus, scattered around the world. PDP etc. could hardly have arrived at a more propitious moment, for in this issue Time presents a special 15-page section entitled "The Computer Society." The report explains just' how the world of electronic sorcery works, and examines its impact on our daily lives. To make such a complicated technical phenomenon understandable, a team of six correspondents, five writers, four reporter-researchers and three photographers spent a month interviewing scientists, visiting manufacturing plants and trying out the newest and most exciting computerized products.
The computer revolution may make us wiser, healthier and even happier It is 7:30 a.m. As the alarm clock burrs, the bedroom curtains swing silently apart, the Venetian blinds snap up and the thermostat boosts the heat to a cozy 70. The percolator in the kitchen starts burbling; the back door opens to let out the dog. The TV set blinks on with the day's first newscast: not your Today show humph-humph, but a selective rundown (ordered up the night before) of all the latest worldwide events affecting the economyâ€”legislative, political, monetary. After the news on TV comes the morning mail, from correspondents who have dictated their messages into the computer network. The latter-day Aladdin, still snugly abed, then presses a button on a bedside box and issues a string of business and personal memos, which appear instantly on the genie screen. After his shower, which has turned itself on at exactly the right temperature at the right minute, Mr. A. is alerted by a buzzer and a blue light on the screen. His boss, the company president, is on his way to the office. A. dresses and saunters out to the car. The engine, of course, is running...
Little whizzes raise the specter of buggy whips No one took to the computer more eagerly or saw its usefulness more quickly than the businessman. Now, 24 years after General Electric became the first company to acquire a computer, these versatile machines have become the galley slaves of capitalism. Without them, the nation's banks would be buried under the blizzard of 35 billion checks that rain down on them annually, and economists trying to project the growth of the nation's $2 trillion economy might as well use Ouija boards. In the airline industry, computers make it possible to reserve a seat on a jumbo jet, pay for it by credit card, and enable the plane itself to fly. In many industries, computers design the products the companies sell. Automakers, for example, use computers to view a prospective new car from any angle; then the computers analyze the market to see if the design will sell.
From a roomful of knitting ladies to a superchilled "brain" For the young electronics engineer at the newly formed Intel Corp., it was a challenging assignment. Fresh out of Stanford University, where he had been a research associate, M.E. ("Ted") Hoff in 1969 was placed in charge of producing a set of miniature components for programmable desktop calculators that a Japanese firm planned to market. After studying the circuitry proposed by the Japanese designers, the shy, self-effacing Hoff knew that he had a problem. As he recalls: "The calculators required a large number of chips, all of them quite expensive, and it looked, quite frankly, as if it would tax all our design capability."
New microtechnology will transform society It is tiny, only about a quarter of an inch square, and quite flat. Under a microscope, it resembles a stylized Navaho rug or the aerial view of a railroad switching yard. Like the grains of sand on a beach, it is made mostly of silicon, next to oxygen the most abundant element on the surface of the earth. Yet this inert fleckâ€”still unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americansâ€”has astonishing powers that are already transforming society. For the so-called miracle chip has a calculating capability equal to that of a room-size computer of only 25 years ago. Unlike the hulking Calibans of vacuum tubes and tangled wires from which it evolved, it is cheap, easy to mass produce, fast, infinitely versatile and convenient.
Americans spend more than $153 billion a year on food and other purchases in supermarkets and grocery stores, and have an abiding suspicion that they are getting gypped at the check-out counter. Their mistrust should be considerably allayed, and the waiting lines shortened, by the ever growing number of computers that are taking over the tally. At a computer-equipped check-out line, all the clerk has to do is pass each item over a Cyclopean eye linked to a cash register and a scale. In a twinkling, the eye "reads" the striped UPC (Universal Product Code) symbol, by which the computer system identities the product, brand name and other pertinent information about the item. (The store manager can program into the computer price changes for specials or daily fluctuations.) Then the computer prints out both the name of the item (say, one 4-oz. can of sliced French beans) and the price on the receipt list.