Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Computers of Tomorrow

Is Cloud Computing a new idea? As a matter of a fact, it is not. Is comparing cloud computing to the electric utilities a new concept. As a matter of a fact, it is not. What does this sound like:

ANALOGY WITH ELECTRICITY

The computing machine is fundamentally an extremely useful device. The service it provides has a kind of universality and generality not unlike that afforded by electric power. Electricity can be harnessed for any of a wide variety of jobs: running machinery, exercising control, transmitting information, producing sound, heat, and light. Symbolic computation can be applied to an equally broad range of tasks: routine numerical calculations, manipulation of textual data, automatic control of instrumentation, simulation of dynamic processes, statistical analyses, problem solving, game playing, information storage, retrieval, and display.

Does that sounds like Nick Carr's analogy with electricity? "Symbolic computation" - When's the last time you heard it said like that?

How about:

THE INFORMATION UTILITY

The concept of an information-processing utility poses many questions. Will the role of information utilities be sufficiently extensive and cohesive to create a whole new industry? If so, will this industry consist of a single integrated utility, like American Telephone and Telegraph, or will there be numerous individual utilities, like Consolidated Edison and the Boston Gas Company? Will the design and manufacture of computing components, terminal equipment, and programming systems be accomplished by subsidiaries of the information utility, as in the telephone industry, or will there be a separate industry of independent private manufacturers, like General Electric and Westinghouse in today's electrical equipment industry?

This sounds an awful lot like utility computing. Something just isn't right though. An information processing utility? American Telephone and Telegraph? Is that AT&T? GE and Westinghouse?

Perhaps the most important question of all concerns the legal matter of government regulation. Will the information utility be a public utility, or will it be privately owned and operated? Will some large companies have their own information utilities, just as some companies today have their own generating plants?

That also sounds like the cloud computing that has been growing at Amazon and Google. Those are sort of like the questions people are asking. Who will own the cloud and how homogeneous will it be. And re-read that last sentence.

The high cost of capital equipment is a major reason why producers of electricity are public utilities instead of unregulated companies. A second reason is the extensive distribution network they require to make their product generally available. This network, once established, is geographically fixed and immovable. Wasteful duplication and proliferation of lines could easily result if there were no public regulation.

This above paragraph is so true. Check out the following paragraph:

Barring unforeseen obstacles, an on-line interactive computer service, provided commercially by an information utility, may be as commonplace by 2000 AD as telephone service is today. By 2000 AD man should have a much better comprehension of himself and his system, not because he will be innately any smarter than he is today, but because he will have learned to use imaginatively the most powerful amplifier of intelligence yet devised.

Did you read that? "by 2000 AD". The article I have been quoting from was written for the Atlantic Monthly in May 1964. This article was written two years before I was born.

This article just blows my mind. The companies are different, the primary industries have changed. The vision is amazing to me. Talk about an accurate extrapolation of the computer industry.

There are a couple of items here that I love.

Dr. Bush himself was only extrapolating from the technology of the time in these particular predictions.

That's the author of this article, Martin Greenberger, complimenting an earlier author on his foresight. Congratulations to you Mr Greenberger. You hit it dead on.

nor did he bank on the perfection of electronic logic, magnetic cores, and transistors.

heh. That one makes me smile. "the perfection of electronic logic, magnetic cores, and transistors", oh if only he know how "more perfect" it could get.

And finally, to set it in perspective. When this was written,

Tens of thousands of computers have been perfected and successfully applied in the past two decades

"Tens of thousands". How many is that now? 10s of billions? This article is 44 years old. I am just amazed.

LewisC

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