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The Transistor and Integrated Circuits Transform Computing

In 1948, at Bell Telephone Laboratories, American physicists Walter Houser Brattain, John Bardeen, and William Bradford Shockley developed the transistor, a device that can act as an electric switch. The transistor had a tremendous impact on computer design, replacing costly, energy-inefficient, and unreliable vacuum tubes.

In the late 1960s integrated circuits (tiny transistors and other electrical components arranged on a single chip of silicon) replaced individual transistors in computers. Integrated circuits resulted from the simultaneous, independent work of Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in the late 1950s. As integrated circuits became miniaturized, more components could be designed into a single computer circuit. In the 1970s refinements in integrated circuit technology led to the development of the modern microprocessor, integrated circuits that contained thousands of transistors. Modern microprocessors can contain more than 40 million transistors.

Manufacturers used integrated circuit technology to build smaller and cheaper computers. The first of these so-called personal computers (PCs)-the Altair 8800-appeared in 1975, sold by Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems (MITS). The Altair used an 8-bit Intel 8080 microprocessor, had 256 bytes of RAM, received input through switches on the front panel, and displayed output on rows of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Refinements in the PC continued with the inclusion of video displays, better storage devices, and CPUs with more computational abilities. Graphical user interfaces were first designed by the Xerox Corporation, then later used successfully by Apple Computer, Inc.. Today the development of sophisticated operating systems such as Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux enables computer users to run programs and manipulate data in ways that were unimaginable in the mid-20th century.

Several researchers claim the “record” for the largest single calculation ever performed. One large single calculation was accomplished by physicists at IBM in 1995. They solved one million trillion mathematical subproblems by continuously running 448 computers for two years. Their analysis demonstrated the existence of a previously hypothetical subatomic particle called a glueball. Japan, Italy, and the United States are collaborating to develop new supercomputers that will run these types of calculations 100 times faster.

In 1996 IBM challenged Garry Kasparov, the reigning world chess champion, to a chess match with a supercomputer called Deep Blue. The computer had the ability to compute more than 100 million chess positions per second. In a 1997 rematch Deep Blue defeated Kasparov, becoming the first computer to win a match against a reigning world chess champion with regulation time controls. Many experts predict these types of parallel processing machines will soon surpass human chess playing ability, and some speculate that massive calculating power will one day replace intelligence. Deep Blue serves as a prototype for future computers that will be required to solve complex problems. At issue, however, is whether a computer can be developed with the ability to learn to solve problems on its own, rather than one programmed to solve a specific set of tasks.

Date: 2015-12-18; view: 1502

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