Computers: Past, Present, and Future
The computer is undoubtedly one of, if not the most important invention ever created by mankind. It’s profound impact on culture and science has fundamentally changed our society. It has quickly evolved from a basic mathematical calculation device to one of the building blocks of how the modern world operates. The development of the computer has been essentially based around making it smaller and faster, which has happened rapidly over the last 50 years. The future will surely include this same pattern, as people find new ways to improve efficiency. From the computer’s early predecessors to the infinitely faster supercomputers of today, the future of computer technology will feature improved quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
The development of where computers are today has been a long journey for scientists. The first iterations of the computer were designed to help scientists and businesses with routine calculations to increase efficiency. One such device was the difference engine, created by Charles Babbage in 1832. According to the Britannica page on the developmental history of computers, “this advanced calculator was intended to produce logarithm tables used in navigation. The value of numbers was represented by the positions of the toothed wheels marked with decimal numbers,” (Swaine). This revolutionary device was one of the first stepping stones toward developing the hardware behind the first traditional computers.
The next major step toward the modern computer was a device called the Analytical Engine developed in the 1930’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This device was used to help mathematicians solve complicated differential equations. While this device was limited to just solving this one type of calculus problem, the basic principles behind how the machine operated were instrumental in the journey towards the first iteration of the computer that we know today. For instance, the Analytical Engine introduced a central calculating unit that was fully programmable; which would evolve into the central processing unit (CPU) that today’s computers are built around. From the 1930’s, computer technology rapidly progressed as governments wanted them for national security and war. The worlds top research institutions and tech corporations have worked and competed for decades to improve computers, making them smaller and more efficient for the everyday person and scientists alike.
That brings us to the state of computer technology today. Since it’s early beginnings, computers have come a long way in their development. Today’s computers are a trillion-fold faster than computers from 50 years ago. This is mainly due to transistor chips in the CPU being made smaller. The smaller the transistors are designed, the more that can be fit in the CPU which will increase processing power.
Moreover, computers are no longer just in expensive research labs. People all over the world have filled their houses with computer based devices. Smart phones, cars, TVs, and even watches contain computers that do the bidding of their user. Because of the mass integration of computers and society, people have seen many changes in how the world operates. According to an essay written by computer scientist Jerome Cox, “Computer technology and, more broadly, information technology, are bringing about a fundamental transformation in our society from an industrial economy to an information economy,” (Cox). Almost all jobs now involve a computer and some way shape or form. As Cox said, our society and economy is adopting computer technology to structure itself for the future.
There are two innovations that are most frequently brought up when talking about computers in the future; quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Both innovations will play a major part in each other’s development as well as the development of most future technology.
Quantum computing is an intimidating sounding topic, but really it is just a relatively simple way that scientists are using to increase computation efficiency. It basically uses The principles of quantum entanglement to allow a computer to make decisions and run through algorithms at a much faster rate. According to IBM’s informational page on quantum computing, “Universal quantum computers leverage the quantum mechanical phenomena of superposition and entanglement to create states that scale exponentially with number of qubits, or quantum bits,” (Fisher). In simpler terms, because of quantum entanglement and the use of qubits, quantum computers can solve much more complex problems than the average computer at a much higher speed. Normal computers don’t have the storage space or the ability to analyze as many possible solutions as quantum computers, allowing scientists to find solutions to problems that even the world’s fastest supercomputers have been stumped by. The video shown below gives a more in-depth explanation of the technology.
There are a variety of applications for this type of technology that are already being studied by scientists. For instance, the concept of molecular modeling using computers has been very difficult with our current computers. Molecular modeling is a method of precisely simulating the interactions of molecules as well as finding the optimal configurations of said molecules.
Our current computers cannot effectively simulate such complex processes; quantum computers may be the solution. According to Mark Jackson’s article “6 Things Quantum Computers Will Be Incredibly Useful For”, “Chemical reactions are quantum in nature as they form highly entangled quantum superposition states. But fully-developed quantum computers would not have any difficulty evaluating even the most complex processes,” (Jackson). Because of the similar nature of the behavior of quantum computers and molecules, quantum computers are ideal for studying the complex processes of molecular interaction. There are several applications for molecular modeling such as improving pharmaceutical drugs by having more control over the composition of the chemicals.
An arguably more exciting application for quantum computing is artificial intelligence. As said earlier, artificial intelligence and quantum computing make up the basis of what the future of computing will be; quantum computing will play a major part in helping to develop artificial intelligence. What’s currently slowing down the development of more powerful artificial intelligence is how much power and how long it takes for computers to actually run AI. Scientists believe that quantum mechanics and superposition used by quantum computers be the next step toward developing efficient and useful artificial intelligence. Shelly Fan of the Singularity Hub describes what specifically about quantum computing will help improve artificial intelligence in her article titled “Quantum Computing and Reinforcement Learning Are Joining Forces to Make Faster AI”. Fan states, “In our classic world, we — and our AI — need to decide between turning left or right at an intersection. In a quantum setup, however, the AI can (in a sense) turn left and right at the same time,” (Fan). Because quantum computers can do more things at a time and essentially multitask, artificial intelligence programs can run much faster. For instance, if an Artificial intelligence program based in a normal computer is looking for a piece of data in a database, it would have to test each route until it finds the piece of data. This could potentially take a very long time and is fairly inefficient. If the artificial intelligence program was based on quantum computing, it could try several routes simultaneously to work faster.
Artificial intelligence technology is set to play a massive role in the future of computer development as well as most other technology. In layman‘s terms, artificial intelligence is when a program is created to simulate human intelligence as well as their learning and problem-solving abilities. There are already early iterations of artificial intelligence used by the public today, such as Alexa from Amazon and Siri from Apple. These AI are very limited in their abilities and have not scratched the surface of where the technology could possibly go. The possible applications for artificial intelligence are endless; they could be used to improve efficiency and accessibility almost anywhere. For example smart homes have already begun to become mainstream as people have the ability to control almost any piece of technology in their home through voice commands. According to an article titled “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans’’ from the Pew Research Center, “They said “smart” systems in communities, in vehicles, in buildings and utilities, on farms and in business processes will save time, money and lives and offer opportunities for individuals to enjoy a more customized future,” (Anderson). This technology is perfect for helping people have a greater control over their homes and businesses which will in turn save money and improve productivity. The author, Janna Anderson, goes on to talk about how the incorporation of artificial intelligence could have a profound impact on improving public health programs and nutrition through faster storage and analysis of data in these smart systems.
While most people think of talking smart homes when they discuss AI, the most important future application of artificial intelligence will be in the medical industry. The possible uses for this type of program could have the ability to save millions of lives. According to an article from the University of0 Southern California’s website, “AI algorithms will enable doctors and hospitals to better analyze data and customize their health care to the genes, environment and lifestyle of each patient,” (Gammon). To elaborate, because artificial intelligence can quickly analyze a lot of data and compare it to other cases, doctors can use this technology to create customized treatment plans for sick patients that will be much more effective than anything they can do currently. For example, if a patient was diagnosed with cancer, the doctors could use artificial intelligence to study the patient’s health, lifestyle and genetic data. The AI could also then compare the given data to other patient’s data. After these processes, doctors could make a much more well-informed decision on how to treat the patient’s cancer based on statistical data. The implications of artificial intelligence technology on medical treatment efficiency and success could be instrumental in providing a higher level of healthcare to people across the planet.
When it comes down to it, quantum computing and artificial intelligence are the future of computer science. For the field of computer technology to grow, these topics must be studied and pursued at length. The integration of artificial intelligence and quantum computing into human society will fundamentally change the world for the better. Artificial intelligence powered by quantum computing could be the key to solving many world issues, such as global warming, starvation, and economic inequality. These complex problems can be made simple, as long as our society pursues the right technology to solve them for us.
Anderson, Janna, and Lee Rainie. “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 22 July 2020, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/12/10/artificial-intelligence-and-the-future-of-humans/. Accessed 4 April 2021.
Cox, Jerome R, and Cees Zeelenberg. “Computer Technology: State of the Art and Future Trends.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Elsevier, 27 May 2010, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S073510978780102X. Accessed 4 April 2021.
Fan, Shelly. “Quantum Computing and Reinforcement Learning Are Joining Forces to Make Faster AI.” Singularity Hub, 16 Mar. 2021, singularityhub.com/2021/03/16/quantum-computing-and-reinforcement-learning-are-joining-forces-to-make-faster-ai/. Accessed 3 April 2021.
Fisher, Chris. “IBM: What Is Quantum Computing?” IBM Quantum, 2 Apr. 2009, www.ibm.com/quantum-computing/learn/what-is-quantum-computing/. Accessed 4 April 2021.
Gammon, Katharine. “5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change the World by 2050: USC Trojan Family Magazine.” USC News, 2017, news.usc.edu/trojan-family/five-ways-ai-will-change-the-world-by-2050/. Accessed 4 April 2021.
Jackson, Mark. 6 Things Quantum Computers Will Be Incredibly Useful For. 16 Nov. 2017, singularityhub.com/2017/06/25/6-things-quantum-computers-will-be-incredibly-useful-for/. Accessed 4 April 2021.
Swaine, Michael R. , Hemmendinger, David , Freiberger, Paul A. and Pottenger, William Morton. “Computer”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Sep. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/computer. Accessed 3 April 2021.