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Approach to Thinking Machines

July 25, 1962

Report Outline
Evolution of New Family of Machines
Computers in Government and Business
Impact of New Machines on Employment

Evolution of New Family of Machines

The thinking machine, often encountered in science fiction, may some day become a reality. Today's electronic computers represent a significant step in that direction. Capable of solving complex problems at fantastic speed, they are in many ways a match for the human brain. Computers, however, are basically stupid: They cannot even add two and two unless told how to do so. But scientists assert that tomorrow's machines will narrow the gap between human and artificial intelligence. They envision computers able to read, write and perhaps even to carry on conversations.

Although computers have been in general use for less than a decade, they have already put their mark on the economy. Businessmen and government officials turn to them for help in handling routine paper work and in making important decisions. White collar workers, both clerical and managerial, are finding that computers are among their strongest competitors for jobs. On the other hand, the booming computer market has opened up positions for persons trained to instruct and design the versatile new machines.

Development of the high-speed, electronic computer coincided with what has been called an “information explosion.” Glenn T. Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, recently pointed out that “The reservoir of scientific knowledge, information and data is doubling in size every seven years.” Thus, by the end of the century, “We will require 16 times more storage space than now unless steps are taken to develop and apply new concepts and techniques, including automatic data processing, to the collection, organization and dissemination of scientific and technical information.” Computers appear uniquely qualified to meet this challenge. Information stored in their voluminous electronic “memories” can be retrieved in a matter of seconds. At the same time, computers are speeding the accumulation of knowledge; they can solve in minutes or hours problems that would require a lifetime of work by several scientists.

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