Frontiers of Science:

The Computers Are Coming! The Computers Are Coming!

Written by Dr. Sherwood B. Idso

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    The Voyager spacecraft missions to Jupiter and Saturn provided striking evidence that we are living today in the age of computers. Sophisticated onboard systems interacted with complex devices back on Earth to produce sharp and colorful pictures of things about which we had previously only dreamed.

    Computers are also at work in almost every phase of our daily lives. Banks and grocery stores have them, hospitals and schools, cars and airplanes, even homes.

    As computer sizes and prices have continued to shrink with each new advance of science and technology, more and more people have begun to find new uses for them. And these people aren’t all scientists either!

    With a home computer, many people find it easier to balance the family budget and keep track of the checks they write. Some are even able to communicate directly with their bank by means of a computer-to-computer hookup made possible by telephone lines. At any time they can see exactly how their finances stand. Some home computers are also able to display the prices of stocks, real estate, and even groceries—which brings us to the possibilities within a kitchen.

    Can you imagine enlisting the aid of a computer to help you plan and prepare dinner? Some people do just that. If they are having friends over who have been there before, they may first ask the computer about their friends’ food preferences—if that data was previously entered into the computer’s memory bank. Then, if they have also entered all of their favorite recipes into the computer (or if they subscribe to a service that supplies such recipes for a small fee), they can “call up” a listing of suitable menus.

    After selecting the menu appropriate for the occasion, a homemaker may then inquire about the amounts of different foods needed. She may also learn whether all the needed items are at the grocery store at that time of year and perhaps even an estimate of the cost involved. If she has to be away from the house during the period when the different dishes need to be cooked, the computer could additionally be programmed to start and stop the oven and stove-top heating coils at appropriate times.

    Yes, the possibilities are almost unlimited—and growing bigger minute by minute. For example, with the proper “connections,” you may soon be able to send instantaneous messages to anyone else in the world who has a computer like yours. Your first step would be to type in some key word, such as SPECIAL DELIVERY, after which the computer would ask you for the person’s “address,” probably some code number. Then, after typing out your message, you would instruct the computer to send it on its way with another key word such as RUSH. Before you could blink, the message would be at its destination. But what if the person you were writing to weren’t home? Just like a letter, your message would be stored in an electric “mailbox” in a large central computer somewhere, awaiting your friend’s return so he could instruct his computer to OPEN MAIL.

    The list goes on and on! When you’ve outgrown your hand and desk calculators, your personal computer could help you with your advanced homework. Indeed, it may even be your homework someday. You could also use it as a journal, recording daily entries and family histories. It could help you to plan vacations, place reservations at airlines, motels, theaters, or provide instant access to the latest news. You could also see whole newspapers on your display screen, scan the holdings of various libraries, check encyclopedia entries, engage in electronic mail-order shopping, play games, or read the Bible.

    Yes, the computer revolution is in full sway, with even more mind-boggling advances still to come. As early as 1983, the first computers that will respond to voice commands are expected to become available. And then we’ll be right up there with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock—well almost. But I’m sure that even they would be surprised with what we’ll have before the end of this century. It’s going to be an exciting time on “Frontiers of Science.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown

    Photographed by Dr. Sherwood B. Idso

    1. The computer revolution started with portable hand calculators that could go wherever they were needed.

    2. Then came slightly larger desk calculators that many students now use to help them do their homework.

    3. Today, computers with typewriter-like keyboards and display screens are found in many homes.

    4. Computer games are a popular activity for many enthusiasts. Here a computer has drawn a maze for its operator to solve in a race against time. Many educational “programs” are also available.

    5. A compact home computer center with keyboard, screen, and high-speed printer.

    6. A bishop’s counselor uses his home computer late at night to do work that only a few years ago would have taken more time away from home for his calling in the Church.

    7. A scientist in a government laboratory types commands at a desk terminal that will activate the large computers behind him. Even this setup is small compared to some in existence today. Yet soon the power that this system command may well be carried around in your coat pocket!