Computer Technology Is Being Domesticated Lebanon Daily News, Friday, December 2,1977 By CURTIS SUTHERLY Dally News Staff Duncan walked to the Corn- sole, and the screen became alive as his fingers brushed the ON pad. Now it was a miracle beyond the dreams of any poet, a charmed magic casement, opening on all seas, all lands. Through this window could flow ' everything that Man had ever learned about his universe, and every work of art he had saved from the dominion of Time. All the libraries and museums that had ever existed could be /un- rated through this screen and the millions like it scattered over the face of the Earth. Even the least sensitive of men could be overwhelmed by the thought that one could operate a Corn- sole for a thousand lifetimes— and barely sample the knowledge stored within the memory banks that lay triplicated in their widely separated caverns, more securely guarded than any gold. When Arthur C. Clarke created his acclaimed novel, "Imperial Earth" (from which the above passage is excerpted), he realized, within that scenario, an extensive, amost all-encompassing use of computers both within and without the home. A scientist by profession and a writer of science fiction by choice, Clarke targeted his novel for the year 2276 — 300 years from the date of this nation's Bicentennial. Three hundred years may seem too remote a time to allow speculation on the course and progress of man's scientific achievements. But one only need look to the present to realize that computer technology has been of age for five years or longer. To say that—after 300 additional years—computers will not be in common use is to state flatly that man and his technology will no longer be around. Or perhaps the machines themselves will still be here, running an empty planet (remember the neutron bomb?) ... Pessimism aside, there is every reason to believe that man and machine will enjoy a comfortable relationship for many a day still to come. One person who would not argue against this view is Wilbur Smith, a Palmyra electrical engineer who'is deeply fascinated by state-of-the-art computer technology—particularly that aspect which applies to use in the home. In fact, Smith refers to this fascination as "the first love." For Home Use During a recent session with Smith, I had the opportunity to probe the man's memory about his knowledge of data processing and memory systems for use in the home. The result of that discussion was probably to be expected: "I think society is about ready to accept computers for the home," Smith pointed out, obviously comfortable with a familiar question. Asked for his reasoning behind this belief, Smith referred to the use of computers in today's schools. "Many school systems are using computers as instruments of learning," he said. "It (the computer) is a powerful education tool." The engineer then flipped open a massive volume containing a seemingly endless array of programs for computers. Selecting a program from the book (dealing with descriptions of various animals), Smith explained how the information contained in the program can be fed into a computer, and later used as a teaching aid for children. Essentially, this is what could happen: the child would activate the machine and begin receiving information about, say, a dog. The computer would offer a basic description of the animal, after which the child would reply — by typing out a message — with what is believed to be a correct reply. If correct, the computer would indicate so; if not, additional clues would be offered as to the kind of animal until the child is able to supply a correct answer. Once the correct solution has been obtained by the child, the computer then moves on to another animal description. Computer instruction of this sort, Smith believes, is valuable since the computer and the individual "almost carry on a dialogue. There is two-way communication," he explained, "not just a one-way flow of information. The person can ask questions and the computer can reply back." The fact that the use of computers as an educational medium may be frowned on by some persons deters Smith not at all: "Compare it with television," he said. "Even on the educational channels there is no interaction between the viewer and the source of the information. The person watching can only accept what's given; he can't ask questions back." Computers in classroom situations or as home teaching aids are, however, only the beginning, Smith feels. In the past several years, with costs of computers decreasing and the quality of equipment rising, memory machines have been moving into the individual home at a brisk rate. Cost Declines Laying out some figures, Smith noted that five years ago the average home computer would have cost about $5,000 ($4,000 in kit form). Today, that same machine or an improved version may be purchased for $1,200 ($1,000 in kit). These machines are capable of containing upward of 8,000 to 12,000 units of memory. Future PIECING IT TOGETHER — This is what Walter Hiester, owner and operator of Micro Computer Systems, Inc., Hershey, is doing with the components of a home computer kit. Kits like the one shown above are in big demand with electronics buffs who also have a yen to create their own computers. Hiester, certainly no exception to the rule, recently opened his computer sales and service center at the base of the new Hershey senior citizens high-rise on Chocolate Avenue. CDCTFUTERSPEflh Jargon, jibberish, whatever you , may want to call it, the sudden coming of the'home computer has created its own special brand of lingo. If you're planning on going computer shopping this week, you may find the following glossary of terms to be of value. Byte: a byte is one computer word, a unit of memory within the "mind" of the computer. The greater the byte count for your machine (such as 12,000 bytes), the greater is its capacity to store information. Bit: a bit is a single character- within the memory of the computer, eight of which make up one byte. Baud: a baud signifies the number of bits per second being handled by the computer. Bus: a bus is a "data highway" within the memory of the computer, a lane along which information travels. Floppy disk: a floppy disk is one way to store programs which are fed into the memory of the computer. Looking something like small 45-rpm records, they retain information electronically in program format. An alternative to the use of floppy disks, which are expensive, is a tape cassette for information storage. So/fware:this is a term used to describe programs of information which are available to be fed into the computer. These programs may be on paper (to be typed into the machine) or processed on tape or floppy disk and fed directly into .the machine. Major manufacturing firms for home computers are: MITS (which introduced the first home unit), Heathkit, Poly-Morphic, Digital Group, Southwest, Imsai, Commodore, and Radio Shack. COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS-Above, Luther Stone Jr., a technician with MITS Altair Bus Systems (not a transportation company, but rather a computer servicing firm), requests information from the memory of a standard home computer. By typing in questions, statements, or replies to comments from the computer, Stone can carry on a dialogue with the machine. The computer above is one of many models featured at Micro Computer Systems, Chocolate Avenue, Hershey. machines (containing what 'Smith calls a "bubble memory") will provide a still greater functional capacity. Compare these machines with the multimillion dollar monsters of the 1950's (which had to be housed in rooms rather than in square feet) and one begins to understand the awesome advances taking place within the field of computer science. But despite these advances, is a computer a genuinely worth- wliile addition to the home? Yes, says Smith. Worthwhile? An example: with appropriate minimal electrical wiring, a computer can be connected to the thermostat of a home furnace. Once programmed with the proper information and supplied with the necessary external hardware, the machine can sense both inside and outside temperatures and develop a "temperature curve" along which the furnace thermostat will be required to function. The result could be as much as a 30 percent savings in home heating costs, according to some experts. Joe the Computer might also be connected with the home oven thermostat, or to a microwave range, Smith pointed out. The machine could then be used to help regulate the time of cooking food—sort of a chef-by- proxy. In fact, the day may come when the use of home computers will be regulated more by what they can't do than by what . they can. (See the accompanying article by John Sims for additional information on present- day uses for home computers.) The time may not be far off, says Smith, when a person will sit down at a home computer terminal and communicate with, or withdraw information from any other terminal anywhere. All of this would be possible through the use of an established telephone relay system linking the various computer terminals. Moreover, "I see a time when you'll be able to sit down at home and plug into the college of your choice," Smith said. Asked if he isn't just a bit frightened by the rapid development of computer systems, the engineer smiled. "No, I don't think so," he replied, but went on to explain just how sophisticated some computers really are. Some machines, he said (those used in major industry and government work), are programmed for self-diagnosis if they begin to act irrationally. This could involve an electrical short circuit which in turn causes the computer to become "ill." The computer will analyze its own difficulty and effect repairs, usually by bypassing the short circuit. However, the only way the computer operator ever knows anything has happened is because the machine is programmed to say so. But—could a large, sophisticated computer ever become so independent of thought that it might ignore a programmed demand for information? "It's possible..." says Smith.