Computer Technology


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Computer Technology

 

the aggregate of technical and mathematical means, methods, and procedures used to simplify and accelerate the solution of labor-consuming problems involving the processing of data (particularly numerical data) by partial or complete automation of the computing process; the branch of engineering that engages in the development, manufacture, and operation of computers.

Problems associated with the calculation of time, the de-termination of the area of plots of land, commercial calculations, and others go back to the ancient periods of human culture. The first primitive devices for mechanizing computations—the Greek abax and the Chinese abacus—and mathematical rules for solving the simplest computational problems appeared hundreds of years before the Common Era. Computational devices such as “Napier’s bones,” the slide rule, and the arithmetical machine of the French scientist B. Pascal (the forerunner of the adding machine) were known as early as the 17th century. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, which was characterized by growth in the means of production and by mechanization that was swift for that time, also gave an impetus to the development of computer technology. This resulted primarily from the need to perform complex calculations in the design and construction of ships, in the construction of bridges, and in topographical work and from the growing complexity of financial transactions. The complexity and number of problems increased so greatly that it frequently proved impossible to solve them in the necessary time without mechanizing the computing process itself. At that point the primitive calculating devices were replaced by the planimeters of J. Hermann and J. Amsler, V. T. Odhner’s adding machine, and other devices.

In 1833 the English scientist C. Babbage developed a plan for an “analytical machine”—a giant adding machine with programmed control and arithmetic and memory units. How-ever, he was not able to complete this project, primarily be-cause the technology was not sufficiently developed at that time. Material on this machine was published only in 1888, after the author’s death. Only 100 years later did Babbage’s research attract the attention of engineers, but mathematicians took immediate note of it. In 1842 the Italian mathematician Menabrea published his notes from lectures given by Babbage at Turin on the analytical machine.

The practical development of computer technology in the 19th century and the early 20th century primarily involved the construction of analog machines, in particular Academician A. N. Krylov’s first machine for solving differential equations (1904). The Mark I digital computer, with programmed control and electromagnetic relays, was built in the United States in 1944; its manufacture became possible be-cause of accumulated experience in using telephone equipment and punched card machines.

The creation of electronic digital computers in the middle of the 1940’s was a dramatic leap forward in the development of computer technology. The use of electronic digital computers substantially broadened the range of problems that could be handled; it became possible to make computations that had previously not been feasible because the time required exceeded the length of a human life. The production of electronic digital computers grew at an extraordinary rate; the first (and only) ENIAC machine was built in the United States in 1946, and by 1965 the world stock of digital computers was already more than 50,000 machines of various design. The technical parameters of digital computers were improved just as rapidly; their speed and memory capacities increased hundreds and thousands of times.

The first Soviet electronic digital computer, the MESM (Small Electronic Computer), was built in 1950 at the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR under the direction of Academician S. A. Lebedev. In 1953, at the Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Technology, again under the direction of Lebedev, the BESM was built. It be-came the forerunner of the series of domestic electronic digital computers (the Minsk, Ural, Dnepr, Mir, and others).

The rapid improvement in computer technology is closely associated with the intensive development of electronics. The first electronic computers used vacuum tubes; however, within a few years achievements in semiconductor engineering made it possible to switch entirely to semiconductors and, from the early 1960’s, to begin microminiaturization of computer circuits and elements. This substantially increases their speed and reliability, reduces dimensions and the power consumed, and lowers production costs.

The most fundamental use of computer technology is in automatic control systems for collecting, processing, and using data for the purposes of accounting, planning, forecasting, and economic evaluation in order to make scientifically justified decisions. Such control systems may be either complex systems, which encompass the entire country, region, or particular sector of industry as a whole or a group of specialized enterprises, or local systems, operating within the limits of one plant or shop.

Computer technology is used extensively in modern data-processing systems to rapidly and precisely determine the coordinates of ships, submarines, aircraft, objects in space, and so on. A special area of application of computer technology is information retrieval systems, which mechanize library and bibliographical work and facilitate the elimination of enormous reference card files. The work of central banks, savings banks, and other financial institutions, where the use of digital computers makes possible the centralized performance of all calculations and operations, is another rapidly expanding sphere of computer technology application.

The increasing significance of computer technology for the needs of the national economy, as well as the process of bringing this technology closer to users who are not specialists in the field of computer technology, makes increasingly higher demands on computer programs. Program development and programming are becoming significant factors that determine opportunities for further expanding the sphere of application of computer technology. Even in the late 1960’s the cost of software for digital computers exceeded the cost of hardware, and there is a trend toward continued increase in this cost. For simple computational operations digital computers with a rigid program (for example, electronic adding machines, which perform arithmetic actions and compute elementary functions) and small-scale equipment for mechanizing computations (cash registers, tabulating machines, and so on) are used.

The very first electronic digital computers demonstrated the possibility in principle of making computations with a speed greater than the speed of the physical process being calculated. This makes it possible not only to anticipate possible deviations in a process but also to correct them at the proper time and intervene in the course of the process—that is, to control it.

Modern scientific-technical progress is characterized above all by extensive mechanization and automation of human mental activity, as well as by high productivity and scientific organization of labor. The translation of human mental activity into algorithmic terms demanded intensive development of new areas of logic, linguistics, and psychology and the creation of new sections of mathematics, in particular mathematical modeling, and of special mathematical methods for analyzing physical, biological, and social processes whose mathematical investigation was formerly im-possible.

The electronic computer is the most powerful tool of computer technology. It appeared as a result of the increasing, recognized social need to raise the efficiency of human labor, and it has become the primary and most important technical basis of cybernetics. Electronic computers and control apparatus open up broad opportunities in the area of processing enormous volumes of data in very short time periods.

REFERENCES

Lebedev, S. A. Elektronnye vychislitel’nye mashiny. Moscow, 1956.
Booth, A., and K. Booth. Avtomaticheskie tsifrovye mashiny. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)
Kitov, A. I., and N. A. Krinitskii. Elektronnye vychislitel’nye mashiny, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Ledley, R. S. Programmirovanie i ispol’zovanie tsifrovykh vychislitel’nykh mashin. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from English.)
Informatsiia: [Sb. statei.] Edited by A. V. Shileiko. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)
Korn, G., and T. Korn. Elektronnye analogovye i analogo-tsifrovye vychislitel’nye mashiny, parts 1-2. Moscow, 1967-68. (Translated from English.)
Morrison, P., and E. Morrison, (eds.). Charles Babbage and His Calculating Engines. New York [1961].
Sackman, H. Computers, System Science and Evolving Society. New York [1967].

D. IU. PANOV

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