16 October 2017

Technological Frogs

The universe as we know it, began 13.7 billion years ago. The earth formed out of the solar disc about 4.5 billions years ago. The first definite evidence of life can be dated to about 3.5 billion years ago. Mammals evolved a bit over 200 millions years ago, and primates about 60 million years. Modern humans first appear between 300-200,000 years ago, they left Africa about 100,000 years ago, settled in Europe about 40,000 years ago (having bonked a few Neanderthals along the way).

Electricity was discovered in the 19th Century. The triode amplifier was invented in 1906. TV was invented in 1927. The first electronic computer was built using vacuum tubes or "valves" in 1943. The transistor in 1947. Integrated circuits combining multiple transistors was invented soon afterwards but were not mass produced until the early 1970s.

The first TV broadcast in New Zealand was in 1960. I was born in 1966. I remember the manual telephone exchange where you told the operator the number you wanted and they manually connected you. I remember the first time I saw colour television (ca. 1972), and the excitement of a second TV channel in 1975. I remember my older brother getting an electronic pocket calculator ca. 1976.

The first personal computer based on ICs was marketed in 1977 (just 40 years ago). You had to assemble the circuit board yourself!

I first saw a personal computer at school in 1980 and learned to program it in BASIC and Assembly Language (though I realised that I didn't really enjoy programming that much).

Computers double in power every 18 months or so (Moore's Law). So my current PC ought to be roughly 17 million times more powerful than those Apple II computers at Northcote College. But with, like, a billion times more RAM and a trillion times more external storage.

When I was born, a single channel black&white TV was the most advance consumer electronics device I knew. An adult could just about lift one on their own.

Now a computer is my TV, record player, clock, telephone, camera, video recorder, tape recorder, library, teacher, publisher, recording studio, translator, etc. And I can carry it around in my pocket.

I worry a bit that we're like the apocryphal frogs being slowly boiled alive and not noticing until it is too late. And I think it is too late already.

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