Computing, Communication, and the Information Age

INTRODUCTION

Since the turn of the century, we have experienced a sequence of revolutions in technology. The mechanization of agriculture reduced the percent of the U.S. population involved in feeding the nation from more than 50 percent to less than 3 percent. Machine tools capable of creating interchangeable parts from prehardened metal allowed the assembly of mechanical devices by relatively unskilled labor. The associated reduction in cost created markets that in turn created jobs and increased prosperity. The ability to transmit electrical energy and the widespread use of internal combustion engines have had far-reaching impacts on our cities and on our goods and services distribution systems. Similarly, the advent of electronics has brought us communications and entertainment devices that have significantly improved the quality of our lives.

We have now entered the computing and information age. Although it is too soon to fully understand the implications, digital computing and fiber-optic communications are replacing mass and energy with information and computation. Companies are exploring ways to reduce the weight of automobiles by replacing individual wires with an electrical power bus. Digital signals are being used to inform light bulbs and other devices when to turn on or off. Engineers are exploring whether expensive mechanisms for accurately registering paper in high-speed copiers can be replaced with inexpensive mechanisms, compensating for the registration by rotating the image digitally. These and many other technologies will profoundly affect our lives by reducing costs, creating new services, and providing undreamed of access to information.

In this lecture I explore two aspects of the computing and information age: modeling and simulation and the capture and access of information in digital form. I will describe what is happening in the research of these technologies, with a focus on the evolving science base required to support them.

To underscore the impact that the development of such a science base will have on the computing and information age, let us go back and look briefly at an earlier development in computer science. In the late 1960s, the area of algorithms consisted of a scattered knowledge about individual computer programs. There was no formal theory or organized body of knowledge. Practitioners learned by trial, error, and experience. If a researcher worked on a computer program, he or she recorded the work by publishing a paper consisting of the computer program along with some experimental data The data documented that the computer program solved specific instances of the problem in so many seconds, on such and such a computer. A few years later a second researcher would publish his or her results, and



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
COMPUTING, COMMUNICATION, AND THE INFORMATION AGE Computing, Communication, and the Information Age INTRODUCTION Since the turn of the century, we have experienced a sequence of revolutions in technology. The mechanization of agriculture reduced the percent of the U.S. population involved in feeding the nation from more than 50 percent to less than 3 percent. Machine tools capable of creating interchangeable parts from prehardened metal allowed the assembly of mechanical devices by relatively unskilled labor. The associated reduction in cost created markets that in turn created jobs and increased prosperity. The ability to transmit electrical energy and the widespread use of internal combustion engines have had far-reaching impacts on our cities and on our goods and services distribution systems. Similarly, the advent of electronics has brought us communications and entertainment devices that have significantly improved the quality of our lives. We have now entered the computing and information age. Although it is too soon to fully understand the implications, digital computing and fiber-optic communications are replacing mass and energy with information and computation. Companies are exploring ways to reduce the weight of automobiles by replacing individual wires with an electrical power bus. Digital signals are being used to inform light bulbs and other devices when to turn on or off. Engineers are exploring whether expensive mechanisms for accurately registering paper in high-speed copiers can be replaced with inexpensive mechanisms, compensating for the registration by rotating the image digitally. These and many other technologies will profoundly affect our lives by reducing costs, creating new services, and providing undreamed of access to information. In this lecture I explore two aspects of the computing and information age: modeling and simulation and the capture and access of information in digital form. I will describe what is happening in the research of these technologies, with a focus on the evolving science base required to support them. To underscore the impact that the development of such a science base will have on the computing and information age, let us go back and look briefly at an earlier development in computer science. In the late 1960s, the area of algorithms consisted of a scattered knowledge about individual computer programs. There was no formal theory or organized body of knowledge. Practitioners learned by trial, error, and experience. If a researcher worked on a computer program, he or she recorded the work by publishing a paper consisting of the computer program along with some experimental data The data documented that the computer program solved specific instances of the problem in so many seconds, on such and such a computer. A few years later a second researcher would publish his or her results, and