Lecture 6 - Computers

From the 1985 lecture programme:

Computers were first created as calculating machines for the manipulation of numbers. Later it was realised that their ability to store and transmit information need not be restricted to mere numbers but could include written information and even instructions to control the computer itself. Such a programmable computer saves its operator a great deal of time and effort in manipulating all kinds of data. As technology progressed from mechanical gadgets to circuits using electronic valves, transistors and then microchips, there were enormous improvements in reliability, speed, size, complexity and cost. We will follow some of these developments and see how they are used to produce the instruments that are now so familiar.

The sheer speed of computers allows them to undertake tasks that would otherwise be too tedious. But they can also be programmed to make decisions based upon the information available. If they are then fitted with sensors to provide that information automatically, they become robots capable of responding to the world around them and even manipulating it themselves physically. They can even be made to respond to spoken instructions and to reply with artificial voices. There are clear parallels with the brain and body of a living creature. We will use working examples to explore these similarities but we must also consider the differences. Understanding both the limitations of computers and their great potential for complementing our own abilities is now becoming a part of essential general knowledge.








David Pye



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