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The Computer




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As the century comes to a close, the technology that obsesses us, capti­vates us, infuriates us an dominates us is the com­puter. But ultimately, the most amazing of inven­tions won't be seen as an artifact of the of millennium but the defining force of the one just dawning. Do you really think that we're already into the computer age? That's a gross underestimation of what the computer will eventually do to change our world, our lives and perhaps the nature of reality itself.

Underestimation, as it turns out, has been a constant in the brief but dazzling history of this amazing machine. Surprisingly, the tale begins in the 19th century, when Charles Babbage, an English mathematician born in 1791, launched a lifelong quest to build information-processing m, chines—first a calculator called the Difference Engine and then a more elaborate programmable device dubbed the Analytical Engine. He lacked—among other things— electricity, transistors, keyboads and Bill Gates. Yet in the 1830s he came astonishingly close to producing some­thing very much like the computers that would be celebrated decades after he died. Unfortunately, his skill at innovation was not matched by an ability to generate venture capital, and his plans were tossed into the unforgiving core dump of history.

The idea of a programmable machine that performed humanity's mental labors breakthrough came at the hands of another eccentric English mathematician, A Turing, who outlined how it was possible to build something that could perform virtually any mathematical task that one could describe. His proof involved an ingenious imaginary device that would b known as the Universal Turing Ma­chine—essentially, a machine that could duplicate the work of any other machine;

Even if the "machine" were a human calculator. Turing knew what the rest of us are still trying to wrap our minds around—such a contraption, a computer can do anything. It's an invention that breeds invention itself.

But it took a war to bring about the physical devices that would be known as the first real computers. (A small but noisy controversy among computer historians involves whether a device constructed in 1939 by John Atanasoff and his student at Iowa State University, Clifford Berry, de­serves the true mantle of First Electronic Computer.) In England Turing himself worked on machines that helped crack the secret codes used by the Germans. In Ger­many itself, a wizard named Konrad Zuse was working on that country's computing effort but never fully realized his ideas. And in America, a Hungarian genius named John von Neumann—perhaps the premier mathematician of this century-was pondering mechanical devices to help perform the calculations required for the Manhattan Project. A chance meeting at a train platform in 1944 led him to a team of scientists working at the University of Pennsylvania to create ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which many people consider the true Adam of computers. Designed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly to help crunch numbers for artillery-target esti­mates, this device used 18,000 vacuum tubes and cost $400,000. Von Neumann was fascinated, and he worked with the ENIAC people to take computing to the next level: ED VAC, which was essentially a blueprint for the machines that followed: memory, stored programs and a central processor for number crunching. This scheme was suffi­ciently versatile to launch computers into the commercial realm. But even then, underestimation was as thick as in Babbage's day. Thomas Watson Sr., the head of the company that was perhaps most prescient of all in embracing the idea—IBM — thought it unimaginable that there would ever be a worldwide need for the ma­chine. "I think there is a world market," said Watson, "for maybe five computers."



As we know, IBM sold a lot more than five computers. During the '50s and '60s big institutions and businesses used these expensive devices to perform complicated tasks, churning out responses to programs fed into the machine on manila cards. But while a quasi-priesthood of caretakers controlled access to the rooms that held these beasts, a small underground proto-hacker culture also emerged. These ad-venturesome supemerds used the com­puter to process words, to draw pictures



and even to play chess. (Naysayers pre­dicted that a computer would never mas­ter this purely human intellectual pursuit. Garry Kasparov probably wishes they were right.)

What finally bound those two cultures together was the development of the per­sonal computer. This was made possible by the invention of the microprocessor— a computer on a chip—by Intel Corp.'s Ted Hoffin 1971. Essentially, what once filled a room and cost as much as a man­sion had been shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp and the cost of a dinner. By 1975, the PC was just waiting to be born, and the obstetrician was Ed Roberts, a Florida-bom engineer who dreamed of a machine that would delivel to the ordinary man a machine that was the mental equivalent of what the pharaohs had in Egypt: thousands of workers to do one's bidding. His Altair microcomputer was announced in Janu­ary of that year, and though it had limited practical value (the only way to put a pro gram in was to painstakingly flick little switches), it caused a sensation among a small cult of tweak-heads and engineers.



Like who? A Harvard student named Gates, for one, who instantly began writ­ing Altair software. Another acolyte was Stephen Wozniak, who quickly designed his own machine, the Apple II.

Even then, people still kept underesti­mating. Consider what Ken Olsen, head of the then powerful Digital Equipment Corp., had to say when asked about the idea of the computer's becoming a common device: "There is no reason for any individ­ual to have a computer in his home." What proved him wrong was the

grass-roots development of software for these small devices: word processing, games and, perhaps the most crucial of all, a program called VisiCalc that not only automated the previously tedious task of calculating financial spreadsheets, but made modeling of business plans as easy as sneezing. Electronic spreadsheets were the tool that persuaded big business (which had previously turned its nose up at personal computers) to adopt the ma­chines wholesale. And a new industry was suddenly thriving. The next big step was the move to computer communications in the '90s, when program called Mosaic, written by stu­dents at the University of Illinois who Ii er helped found the Netscape company; shot what was already an accelerating ! global Internet into serious overdrive:

The prospect of millions of computers ! connected worldwide was suddenly a reality. People are still processing the effects of that explosion. And a lot of people, still in denial, are kidding themselves by thinking that the end of the Net transforma­tions is anywhere in sight.

Where are the frontiers of computing? It's scary to contemplate, because the field is so young and the technology so flexible. But consider what some computer scientists are already working on. Nanocomputers — microscopic devices that may change the way we think of materials. ' Digital ink that will, in effect, transform paper into something as protean as com­puter screens. And "artificial life" soft- ' ware that works like biological organism so much so that it strives to be classified as itself alive.

Skeptics dismiss the feasibility of many of these ambitious projects. In other words, people still persist in underestimating the power of a machine whose limitations are seemingly unbounded. If history is our guide, even our imaginations cannot grasp what the computer will ultimately become.

 

 

Vocabulary

close - здесь: конец, завершение

obsess - завладеть

captivate - пленять

infuriate - приводить в ярость

ultimately - в конечном итоге

amazing - замечательный

invention - изобретение

artifact - здесь: изделие (рукотворное)

gross - большой

underestimation - недооценка

eventually - в конечном итоге

turn out - оказываться

dazzling - поразительный

tale - история

launch - стартовать, начать

quest - поиски

process - обрабатывать

elaborate - тщательно разрабатывать

engine - двигатель

dеvice - прибор, устройство

dub - шутл. давать прозвище

lack - отсутствовать, не хватать

keyboard - клавиатура

astonishingly - удивительно

decade - десятилетие

skill - умение

match - равняться, подходить

venture capital - стартовый капитал

be tossed into - быть погребенным в

core - сердцевина, ядро

dump - амер. мусорная куча

breakthrough - прорыв

outline - очертить, обрисовать

virtually - практически

proof - доказательство

involve - включать, вовлекать

ingenious - остроумный

imaginary - воображение

essentially - по сути, по существу

duplicate - продублировать

wrap around - обертывать, окутывать

contraption - шутл. странный прибор

breed (bred,bred) - здесь: порождать

controversy - противоречие

deserve - заслуживать

mantle - мантия

crack - здесь: взломать

wizard - волшебник, чародей

effort - усилие

realize - реализовать, осуществлять

ponder - тщательно обдумывать

perform - совершать

required - требуемый

team - команда

create - создавать

crunch - здесь: подбирать, выявлять

target - цель

estimate - оценка

fascinate - пленить, очаровать

tube - трубка

bluepring - (свето)копия

stored - сохраняемый

sufficiently - достаточно

versatile - вязкий

launch - здесь: запускать

realm - область, сфера

prescient - форм. предвосхищаемый

embrace - включать

businesses - мн.ч.:фирмы, компании

complicated - сложный

churn out - здесь: выдавать

response - ответ

feed(fed, fed) - здесь: загружать

manila - особый материал

quasi - псевдо-, квази

caretaker - хранитель, смотритель

access - доступ

beast - здесь: чудовище

emerge - возникать, появляться

adventuresome - рискованный

naysayer - амер. противник

predict - предсказывать

purely - чисто, только

pursuit - занятие, дело

bind* - связывать, объединять

mansion - особняк

shrink* - сжиматься

obstetrician - врач, сопровождающий рождение ребенка

deliver - поставить, обеспечить

bidding - приказание

announce - объявить, заявить

value - ценность

painstackingly - кропотливо,старательно

flick - щелкнуть, нажать

cause - вызвать, быть причиной

cult - культ

software - программное обеспечение

acolyte - служитель, помощник

common - общепринятый, обычный

device - прибор, устройство

prove - доказывать

grass-roots - обычные, простые люди

crucial - решающий

previously - ранее

tedious - утомительный

spreadsheet - бланк отчета

sneeze - чихать

turn one's nose up at - "воротить нос"

adopt - принимать

wholesale - оптовая торговля

thrive - процветать, преуспевать

prospect - перспектива

explosion - вхрыв

denial - отрицание

be kidding - разг. шутить

in sight - на виду

frontiers - мн.ч. границы

scary - страшно

contemplate - предполагать, размышлять

flexible - гибкий

digital - цифровой

ink - чернила

protean - постоянно меняющийся

screen - экран

artificial - искусственный

feasibility - вероятность, осуществимость

persist - настаивать

limitation - ограничение

unbounded - здесь: неограниченный

guide - гид, руководитель

imagination - воображение

grasp - здесь: понять, осознать

ultimately - в конечном итоге

 

Word Study to the Text.

Ex. Match the phrases with their Russian equivalents:

1. ultimately 2. chance meeting 3. gross underestimation 4.

feasibility of projects 5. lifelong quest 6. artificial life 7.

venturе capital 8. commercial realm 9. worlwide need (for) 10.

expensive device 11. essentially 12. noisy controversy 13.

imaginary device 14. complicated task 15. financial spreadsheet 16.

intellectual pursuit 17. postage stamp 18. wholesale 19. purely human

20. practical value 21. sufficiently

a/ случайная встреча b/ дорогостоящий прибор c/ осуществимость

проектов d/ почтовая марка e/ воображаемый прибор f/ в конечном

итоге g/ поиск длиною в жизнь h/ чисто человеческий i/ достаточно

j / стартовый капитал k/ сфера торговли l/ шумное противоречие m/

по существу, по сути n/ практическая ценность o/ сложная задача p/

финансовый отчет q/ интеллектуальное занятие r/ всемирная потребность

(в) s/ большая недооценка t/ сложная задача u/ искусственная жизнь

 

Ex. Match the phrases with their Russian equivalents:

1. to perform any task 2. to come to a close 3. to be kidding 4. to

infuriate 5. to deserve a mantle 6. to perform calculations 7. to

dismiss feasibility (of) 8. to prosess words 9. to perform a

breakthrough 10. to do one's bidding 11. to be tossed into 12. to

contol access (to) 13. to crack a code 14. to be in sight

a/ заслуживать мантии b/ выполнять чьи-то приказы c/ подходить к

завершению d/ быть погребенным (в) e/ приводить в ярость f/

выполнять любую задачу g/ отрицать возможность осуществления h/

контролировать доступ (к) i/ проводить подсчеты j/ быть на виду

k/ обрабатывать слова l/ взломать код m/ шутить n/ совершать

прорыв

 

Ex. Translate the following sentences into English.

1. Столетие подходит к своему завершению. 2. Тезника, которая одновременно

пленяет и раздражает нас - это компьютер. 3. Мы входим в компьютерный век.

4. Это огромная недооценка того, чем компьютер стане в конечном итоге. 5.

Удивительно, но история начинается с того, что Чарльз Баббедж начал поиск

длиною в жизнь - изобретение машины, обрабатывающей информацию. 6. Прибору

недоставало клавиатуры и еще нескольких деталей (parts). 7. К сожалению,

его умению изобретать новинки (innovations) не соответствовала его

способность заработать стартовый капитал. 8. Идея программируемой машины,

которая могла совершить прорыв в этой сфере, пришла в голову другому

эксцентричного математика, А.Тюринга. 9. Он говорил, что возможно построить

нечто, что способно осуществить практически любую математическую задачу,

которую только можно описать. 10. Эта машина могла продублировать работу

любого другого прибора. 11. Их изобретение заслуживает профессорской

мантии. 12. Джон фон Нейман так никогда и не реализовал полностью свои

идеи. 13. Случайная встреча на перроне вокзала дала ему шанс стать членом

данной команды. 14. По сущесству, данный документ включал описание памяти,

сохраняемой программами. 15. Схема была достаточно разносторонней, чтобы

запустить компьютер в коммерческую сферу. 16. Противники предсказывали, что

компьютер никогда не овладеет чисто человеческими интеллектуальными

усениями (pursuit). 17. То, что когда-то заполняло комнату и стоило

столько, сколько стоил особняк, сжалось до размеров почтовой марки и

стоимости ужина. 18. Эд Робертс мечтал снабдить обычного человека машиной,

которая могла вы выполнять его приказы. 19. Люди всегда недооценивали это

изобретение. 20. Электронные финансовые отчеты были тем средством, которое

убедило крупных бизнесменов принять компьютеры для оптовой торговли. 21.

Скептики отрицают вероятность многих из этих амбициозных проектов. 22. Если

история - наш проводник, даже наше воображение не может осознать, чем

станет компьютер в конечном итоге.

 

Comprehension Check.

Ex. Answer the following questions:

1. What technology obsesses the mankind nowadays?

2. What does the tale begin with?

3. What did A.Turing outline?

4. Did scientists of other countries try to develop a computer?

5. What is considered to be the true Adam of computers?

6. How did John von Neumann join the scientists working at the University

of Pennsylvania?

7. What project did they perform?

8. What thing made it possible to create a personal computer?

9. What persuaded big businesses to adopt computers wholesale?

10. Can we see the frontiers of computing?

 

Topics to discuss.

1. Contribution of the following persons into computer development:

a/ Charles Babbage (USA);

b/ A.Turing (Great Britain);

c/ John Atanassov and his student Clifford Berry (USA);

d/ Konrad Zuse (Germany);

e/ John von Neumann (Hungarian genius, working then in America);

f/ J.Presper Ecker and John Mauchly (USA);

g/ Thomas Watson, Sr. (USA);

h/ Ed Roberts (USA);

i/ Bill Gates (USA);

j/ Stephen Wozniak (USA);

k/ Ken Olsen (USA).

2. Steps in computer development

 

Text II- A


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