OT computer history (was Re: SF significant)

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Fri Jan 21 15:44:56 EST 2005


On Fri, Jan 21, 2005 at 08:32:43PM +0000, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>So yes, perhaps a little short on expected SF elements: he hadn't thought
>to include the computer in his worldview; which is strange, considering
>that they were already a commonplace of the genre by the fifties.

Not really. Most people were expecting computers to get _smarter_, i.e.
to start talking back; some visionaries who knew the things in a bit
more detail suggested they'd solve the same sorts of problems they were
being used to solve (mostly, complex numerical systems such as
ballistics calculations) but faster; but everyone _knew_ that there was
a limit to how many valves or even those new-fangled transistors you
could pack into a given space, which wasn't going to be exceeded
without seriously bending the laws of physics. Even though integrated
circuits were invented in 1958, the idea of massive _storage_ (rather
than processing) densities really didn't take off until very much
later. (The first magnetic disc system was sold in 1956 and had a 5
megabyte capacity on 50 24" discs...)

Roger

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