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There are some occasions, though, when the most significant force in a year's news is not a single individual but a process, and a widespread recognition by a whole society that this process is changing the course of all other processes. That is why, after weighing the ebb and flow of events around the world, TIME has decided that 1982 is the year of the computer. It would have been possible to single out as Man of the Year one of the engineers or entrepreneurs who masterminded this technological revolution, but no one person has clearly dominated those turbulent events. More important, such a selection would obscure the main point. TIME'S Man of the Year for 1982, the greatest influence for good or evil, is not a man at all. It is a machine: the computer.
It is easy enough to look at the world around us and conclude that the computer has not changed things all that drastically. But one can conclude from similar observations that the earth is flat, and that the sun circles it every 24 hours. Although everything seems much the same from one day to the next, changes under the surface of life's routines are actually occurring at almost unimaginable speed. Just 100 years ago, parts of New York City were lighted for the first time by a strange new force called electricity; just 100 years ago, the German Engineer Gottlieb Daimler began building a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine (three more years passed before he fitted it to a bicycle). So it is with the computer.
The first fully electronic digital computer built in the U.S. dates back only to the end of World War II.
Created at the University of Pennsylvania, ENIAC weighed 30 tons and contained 18,000 vacuum tubes, which failed at an average of one every seven minutes. The arrival of the transistor and the miniaturized circuit in the 1950s made it possible to reduce a room-size computer to a silicon chip the size of a pea. And prices kept dropping. In contrast to the $487,000 paid for ENIAC, a top IBM personal computer today costs about $4,000, and some discounters offer a basic Timex-Sinclair 1000 for $77.95. One computer expert illustrates the trend by estimating that if the automobile business had developed like the computer business, a Rolls-Royce would now cost $2.75 and run 3 million miles on a gallon of gas.
Looking ahead, the computer industry sees pure gold. There are 83 million U.S. homes with TV sets, 54 million white-collar workers, 26 million professionals, 4 million small businesses. Computer salesmen are hungrily eyeing every one of them. Estimates for the number of personal computers in use by the end of the century run as high as 80 million. Then there are all the auxiliary industries: desks to hold computers, luggage to carry them, cleans ers