Computers: Why Size Does Matter (Lift with your knees!)
“…I predict that within 100 years, computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them.” — Professor Frink, The Simpsons.
There is much to enjoy in that quote. Not only does the cost limit their purchase to the “five of the riches kings of Europe” but computers evolve into such thunderous sizes that they compete with city governments for real estate.
Yes, it is hard to believe but this is how computer evolution was perceived back in their advent. My daughter recently purchased a scientific calculator for a college math class, and it set her back 130 dollars. Not much bigger than a cell phone, it is far more powerful than the on-board computers of the Apollo missions and at a fraction of the cost.
Why early science fiction envisioned computers in such a manner is plainly laid out in this wonderful video from tested.com, wherein Adam Savage and Will Smith sort through wonderful arcane computer technology, in particular a five inch long, one inch wide, vacuum-tube powered 1-bit logic gate from an 1952 IBM mainframe. (I won’t spoil the rest of the video.)
Let me first highlight a few science fiction examples of ultra-computers in terms of size and power.
- The Last Question (1958 Short Story by Asimov)
- Deep Thought (1980 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Adams)
- Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970 film by Sargent/1966 novel by Jones)
If I could use Colosses as a prime example, it would seem logical that a computer using 1-bit logic gate technology would be the size of a small city if it were capable of independent thinking and reasoning, as well as handling the full weight and majesty of our nuclear arsenal. Will and Adam did the computations to determine that if one were to make a modern computer using the technology of 1-bit logic gates, such a computer would be the size of—
Oh, just watch the video. But let me say this: if you want to have a iPod 5G with 64 GB memory using 1981 gigabyte memory technology, your device should weigh-in at a whopping 4,800 pounds.