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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7: Digital Computers in the Life Sciences." National Research Council. 1970. The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9575.
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CHAPTER SEVEN DIGITAL COMPUTERS IN THE LIFE SCIENCES Throughout organized society we are engaged in a massive experiment to learn how to integrate the technology of information processing by com- puter into the working fabric of each area of endeavor. This experiment started in some areas two dozen years ago; in some it is just starting, and in others it is still largely in the planning stage. These experiences have begun to provide a picture of the process through which a given field assimilates the computer. No field is much beyond the beginnings of this experiment, as a retrospective study 20 years from now will undoubtedly demonstrate. To assess the role of the computer in a particular field in this case, the life sciences-some general lessons must be understood and some questions examined. After presenting the general lessons rather briefly and dogmatically, we shall ask some appropriate questions concern- ing the life sciences. Together, these two approaches lead to a number of recommendations concerning management of computers for the life sciences in the immediate future. GENERAL FACTS ABOUT COMPUTER USAGE 1. The computer is a general processor of symbolic information. Most importantly, the computer is a general device for processing symbolic in 385

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