Technology: The Cybernated Generation

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Unto Caesar, unto Sod. As the most sophisticated and powerful of the tools devised by man, the computer has already affected whole areas of society, opening up vast new possibilities by its extraordinary feats of memory and calculation. It is changing the world of business so profoundly that it is producing a new era in Arnold Toynbee's "permanent industrial revolution." It has given new horizons to the fields of science and medicine, changed the techniques of education and improved the efficiency of government. It has affected military strategy, increased human productivity, made many products less expensive and greatly lowered the barriers to knowledge.

Arranged row upon row in air-conditioned rooms, waited upon by crisp, young, white-shirted men who move softly among them like priests serving in a shrine, the computers go about their work quietly and, for the most part, unseen by the public. Popping up across the U.S. like slab-sided mushrooms, they are the fastest growing element in the technical arsenal of the world's most technologized nation. In 1951 there were fewer than 100 computers in operation in the U.S.; today 22,500 computers stand in offices and factories, schools and laboratories—four times as many as all the computers that exist elsewhere in the free world. Only eleven years ago, U.S. industry bought its first computer; today some single companies use as many as 200 computers.

The computer already has been put to work at more than 700 specific tasks, both mundane and exotic, from bookkeeping to monitoring underground nuclear explosions. Computers control the flow of electric current for much of the nation, route long-distance telephone calls, set newspaper type, even dictate just how sausage is made. They navigate ships and planes, mix cakes and cement, prepare weather forecasts, check income tax returns, direct city traffic and diagnose human—and machine—ailments. They render unto Caesar by sending out the monthly bills and reading the squiggly hieroglyphics on bank checks, and unto God by counting the ballots of the world's Catholic bishops at sessions of the Ecumenical Council in St. Peter's Basilica.

Formidable Adulthood. The whole science of cybernetics is now entering a new stage. In it, steadily more complex and powerful computers will be called upon to perform infinitely more varied and more difficult tasks. Boeing announced plans two weeks ago to outfit jetliners with computer-run systems that will land a plane in almost any weather without human help. A new "talking computer" at the New York Stock Exchange recently began providing instant stock quotations over a special telephone. In Chicago a drive-in computer center now processes information for customers while they wait, much as in a Laundromat. The New York Central recently scored a first among the world's railroads by installing computer-fed TV devices that will provide instant information on the location of any of the 125,000 freight cars on the road's 10,000 miles of track.

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