Third Generation Computers (1964 - 1971)

The Fourth Generation and Beyond

The application of Moore's Law to fourth generation computer technology led inexorably to the development of the micro/personal computer (Mazor 1995; Burgleman et al. 1999; Polad et al. ????). Altair, introduced in 1975 (Delany 1997; Sanderson 1998)103 and Apple in 1976 (Weyhrich 2001) were the first commercially successful microprocessor-based microcomputers an individual could readily afford to purchase. Before the end of the 1980's the basic architecture of microprocessor and silicon chip RAM backed up by magnetic disk storage media was well established with technological improvements measured by Moore's Law more than doubling raw processing power (processor speed x word length x RAM memory) every year in an unbroken trend up to the present. Patterson (1996?) summarizes some of the benchmarks in the development of personal computing.

Figure 12. Intel's Pentium 4 micro processor from 2000. The single chip contains 42,000,000 individual transistors, including 512 K bits of "cache" RAM memory. Its word length is 64 bits that are processed at a clock speed of 1,500,000,000 Hz. (1.5 GHz). Additions are processed at twice this speed (3 GHz). Individual circuit elements are much too small to be resolved in this micrograph of the whole chip104. Compare this with Figure 10 of the 4004 chip.

Revolutions in software were also essential to make the computers easier to use. The concept of "generations" of programming languages is useful here.

This new microcomputer technology has been fed into industrial processes to automate its own production. Since mid 1970's all computer-based processes have grown exponentially in trends basically tied to Moore's law. We have reached the point where the automated factories producing microprocessors and associated peripherals are now the equivalent to the early presses. For the unit costs in labor and materials to print an early book, computer chip-making industrial processes are now "printing" knowledge processors able to automate the production and retrieval of knowledge itself.

For what a single book cost a scholar 500 years ago, today the scholar can purchase a book-sized laptop computer able to access a significant fraction the entire corpus of humanity's knowledge recorded in World 3 via the Internet.

As will be discussed in more detail in the concluding sections of this work, there is probably at least another 10 years of exponential growth left in silicon-based microprocessor and memory technologies before the limit to what one can do with electrons on doped silicon surfaces is reached. Beyond this, there are several new technologies which promise further orders of magnitude increases in processing power and memory capacity (e.g., photonic and/or quantum computing). As today's technology would be unimaginable to yesterday's scholars, the continuing exponential growth of processing power will take technology beyond what we can imagine today.

I now wish to explore the impact of the technological revolutions on the changing ways individuals and organizations have been able to create and use knowledge.

EPISODE 3 - Cognitive Tools for Individuals