6.24 Computers have been a byword for unreliability
"to err is human, but to really foul things up you
need a computer." The jibe is unfair. Computers are astonishingly
reliable and accurate machines. A PC can faultlessly performs
billions of operations a second for days on end. The frustrating
problems that users experience are almost always a fault in what
can be extremely complicated software. As has also been said,
"computers are machines for making very fast and very accurate
6.25 Problems with the reliability and usability
of computers are being addressed through programmes such as IBM's
vision of "Autonomic Computing" (Q 322).
The human autonomic system is made up of a large number of largely
independent units, each of which is self-adjusting, self-healing,
and responsive to the needs of the other units. Can computers
be built in a similar way, so that they look after themselves
far better than they do at present?
6.26 Another, and more significant, question
is the confidence that people have in computers. We generally
accept embedded computer applications in, for example, cars and
aeroplanes without thought. People tend to have more concerns
when their interface with computers is more obvious, such as credit
card transactions over the internet.
6.27 Developments such as the EU's ambient computing
initiative described above would lead to many aspects of our lives
being managed (or at least filtered) through machines. If such
applications are to achieve critical mass, it will be essential
for users to have complete trust in the outcomes. We were therefore
both interested and pleased to learn that an important strand
of the EU's research programme relates to establishing the conditions
for necessary trust in the technology (Q 556).
6.28 Reaching the physical or financial limits
of CMOS technology in 10 to 20 years time is likely to have a
major effect on the chip fabrication industry. However, the existing
capabilities of the technology let alone those it will
have at maturity will enable the development of products
with capabilities we can barely imagine today. Perhaps genuine
machine intelligence will finally become a reality.
6.29 One thing is certain: most of us in the
developed world will be surrounded by computers wherever we go.
We have already passed the point where the personal computer
that is, one computer for each person has become a reality.
Most of us now have tens of computers in our PCs, mobile phones,
PDAs, video recorders, microwave ovens, cars, and so on.
6.30 In the future these tens will become hundreds
and then thousands. Instead of each of our computers demanding
our personal attention and working in isolation, they will increasingly
integrate with each other to form a community of computers working
together to support us in our daily lives.
49 The internet is actually a series of interconnected
networks that now jointly span the globe. Back
For a history of ARPANET, see http://www.dei.isep.ipp.pt/docs/arpa.html Back
Based on the hypertext addressing protocols devised by the British
physicist, Tim Berners-Lee, while he was working at CERN. Back
At such speeds, the entire text of the Bible could be transferred
in about a minute. Back
See Appendix 10. Back
See Appendix 6. Back
In case this sounds too far-fetched, during our visit to IBM's
Almaden Research Centre in Silicon Valley (see Appendix 6), we
were privileged to operate equipment that enabled the user, sitting
at a PC, to move individual atoms using an atomic force microscope
in an adjacent room. The researcher told us he hoped to provide
internet access to this facility in the near future. Back
See www.ibm.com/research/autonomic Back
During our visit to Silicon Valley (see Appendix 6), Intel's researchers
aptly described this vision as "human-centred computing". Back