Science: Fast Student

The student put to the test at the University of Illinois was 8½ ft. tall, 10 ft. wide at the shoulders, and packed with green-faced cathode-ray tubes and little red neon lights. The name was ORDVAC (Ordnance Variable Automatic Computer), and ORDVAC proved remarkably handy with figures.

While officers from Army Ordnance, which owns ORDVAC, watched with admiration, the Illinois professors who built the machine fed problem after problem into its twinkling innards. ORDVAC added numbers at the rate of 10,000 per second. It finished twelve-digit problems in multiplication (e.g., 428,945,437,246 times 342,873,937,895) in one thousandth of a second. It did complex...

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