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see inside the body. Computers help us understand and tap Earth's resources: our oil is found by computer analysis of geologic data. Interconnected computer systems underlie our entire financial system, enabling electronic funds transfer and services such as home banking. Digital communication extends to a large and rapidly increasing number of businesses, educational institutions, government agencies, and homes.

Originally devices for computation and business data processing, computers now are tools for information access and processing in the broadest sense. As such, they have become fundamental to the operation of our society, and computing and communications have come to be labeled widely as "information processing."

Remarkably, given its already enormous direct and indirect impact, information technology is being deployed in our society more rapidly now than at any time in the past.2 If this momentum is sustained, then digital technology and digital information-the digital information revolution-will offer a huge range of new applications, create markets for a wide variety of new products and services, and yield a broad spectrum of benefits to all Americans.


The information industry improves its products with amazing speed. For several decades-powered by federal and industrial research and development (R&D) investments in computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and semiconductor physics-each dollar spent on computation, storage, and communication has bought twice the performance every 18 to 24 months. Over the course of each decade, this sustained rate of progress results in a 100-fold improvement, as Figure 1.1 shows for processor speed and disk storage capacity. With continued investment, we can sustain this rate of progress for at least the next decade. Such rapid improvement is possible because of the nature of information and of the technologies required to process it: integrated circuits, storage devices, and communications systems (Box 1.1). Significant improvements in hardware performance in turn make it feasible to create the software required for computers to do new things-electronic and mechanical design, desktop publishing, video editing, modeling of financial markets, creation of digital libraries, and the practice of telemedicine, for example.


FIGURE 1.1 Increase in performance per dollar of processor speed and disk storage from 1989 to 1994, shown on a semilog scale. (The right-hand graph uses a linear scale to emphasize the compound effect of successive doublings.)

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