The main topic of my exhibition is the development and advancement of computational power. As we human beings have experienced, computers have been invading our everyday lives so deeply that we are almost forgetting how recent computers are powerful and transparent. In this essay, I would like to describe the ways of how the relationship between us and computers have changed by using three kinds of terms: Massive Brain, Minute Giants, and Connectioned Independence. Basically, these three terms follow the advancement of computer technology but the elements of each term sometimes overwrap.
It is often said that the history of computers began in order to calculate the trajectory of military missiles at the United States Army. ENIAC – Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer – is famous as one of the first computers in the world. It occupied a large space as a warehouse and consumed no less than 150kW to run. Although it might be nonsense to compare the speed of ENIAC because the architecture of ENIAC was different from the latest computers, ENIAC did roughly five thousand additives/subtractive calculation per second. The latest computer, on the contrary, does the same calculation within one millisecond (tested with Python 3.7.2 running on MacBook Pro 15′ Retina 2012, 2.6GHz Intel Core i7).
Univac 9400, which I picked for one of the objects in my exhibition, plays a substitute role for ENIAC. The Univac series is known as the first mainframe computers which commercially succeeded. The Univac 9400 was released in 1969, almost twenty-five years later than ENIAC was put in practical work. Although the Univac 9400 was still huge, it opened the opportunity of using computers in the non-academic world.
Cray-1 plays a similar role in the exhibition, but the difference of this device is that it was called “supercomputer” and its 80 MHz clocks enabling up to 2x80MFLOPS calculation power made this computer the fastest computer in the world at that time. This speed, however, is now as fast as the optional FPU unit of ARM’s Cortex-M4 MCU.
The computer mounted on the Apollo spacecraft was the other important product in this section. They are named Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) and developed at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT (at that time). The specification of AGC was nearly the same as Nintendo’s gaming machine, “Nintendo Entertainment System(NES)”, originally named “Nintendo Family Computer” in Japanese. AGC had 2MHz CPU and 4KB RAM, NES had 1.8MHz CPU and 2KB RAM. The difference of this machine was that it required absolute reliability because any kind of troubles could lead to the death of Apollo’s astronauts. For example, it was often the case that the user of NES had to reload the software because something, maybe dust or whatever, prevented it from loading the game appropriately. However, that should not have happened in Apollo, particularly when they are in the mission. Therefore, AGC used the special ROM named core rope memory, whose binary data was physically implemented by hand.
Univac, Cray-1, and AGC were great examples to describe the time when computers were not generally available and the each progress of technology followed the Moore’s Low, which predicts that the number of transistors on IC doubles in every eighteen months. We can see how the speed of “calculation” has improved time by time by showing the machines in that age.
After Apple II, computers became personal properties. The whole computing system became smaller and smaller, so that we can take them everywhere. Now, they are as small as a watch.
Apple II, which is often referred as the first successive product of Apple, was the first product which brought a computer to the personal level. In France, France Telecom distributed Minitel, a computerized substitution of a phone book, and almost all of the citizens in the country had the computer.
In recent years, not only that the dimension of a computer has become smaller, but also that the cost of a computer has been getting cheaper. These shrinks helped advancing ubiquitous computing, which is now often called IoT – Internet of Things. The concept of both of these is that to implement a computational function in everywhere and everything so that we can benefit from the computational technology every time. Recently, we can get a microcomputer, which is as powerful as Univac or Cray-1, by just a couple of dollars. Besides, in developed countries, many people have smartphones. These smartphones can compute by far faster than the computers in the early days. It may not be too much to say that we are carrying multiple mainframes in our pocket.
The Maker culture also benefited from this advancement. For example, Arduino, a cheap, flexible open-source microcomputer made in Italy, helped many students and makers to create digital products cheaply and simply. A lot of Makers (people who creates digital products/gadgets with such digital environments) have created their own IoT product by their own hands.
The Internet is what makes the computers in this age fundamentally useful and meaningful. Apple G3 was released with full capability to WWW because of the rapid increase of the number of the users of it. After the Internet, distributed computing started to take the main part of computational works rather than central computing with a mainframe. Unfortunately, however, as it is visualized in “Invisible War” by Daito Manabe and 2bit, some countries use the connectivity and distributed computers to attack the other countries persistently.
We can say that “One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)” project is a project which establishes the connectivity to technology and between children. The technical availability to create a cheap computer helped to provide computers to the children in the severe situation. Although it seems like that this project is not running as it supposed to, this project is potentially important to describe the desired relationship between people and computing.
In addition, there is a project that makes use of the power of distributed computers in order to tackle the world-wide problem. “Folding@home” is a project for performing molecular dynamics simulation of protein dynamics. This project initially developed at Stanford University, and in this severe COVID-19 situation, the leading team of this project uses the computational powers all over the world to analyze COVID-19. Like “Sprit Bomb” in Japanese famous manga Dragon Ball, people can share their resources to help fighting against the enemy of mankind. Now, thanks to the huge numbers new contributors, the total computational resources which this project can use go up to 1.5 exaFLOPs, which is more than the sum of the computational power of the top-500 super computers.
Computers can only calculate. They generally need to be programmed by someone. However, recent highly-programmed and equipped devices can work as if they were doing their tasks without user’s programming. There are multiple elements which support this: the use of visual, 3D input from cameras has updated the interaction between users and computers, the swarm robotics is the computation of boid, 5G network helps connect each devices fast. Waymo, a visualization of a camera mounted on automated vehicle, represents what computers recognize and how they are programmed to react. Kilobot will be an example showing the independent, distributed, and cooperative model of robotics beyond just computing.
The three terms, Massive Brain, Minute Giants, and Connectioned Independence, are going to be the core concepts of my exhibition. The visitors can follow the history of the power of computers. The power of the computer is now beyond just a calculator. It is becoming almost impossible to imagine and understand what computers can do without understanding how they are built and what technology made possible to do with them.
The modern computational devices, including smartphones and microcomputers in all kinds of devices, could be supercomputers if they were born in the earlier time of computing. Through the exhibition, I hope that the visitors can think about how to live with the computer as a part of our everyday nature without being exploited by people who try to exploit the human resource by computationally invade people’s lives.