The Machine that Changed the World (1992) BBC

Episode V - The World At Your Fingertips

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Video Description

Episode V - The World At Your Fingertips.

Rapid development of computers. (Forty-five years ago: ENIAC; $3,000,000 cost; believed only ever six needed. Now: millions of cheap computers; interconnected.)

Print media --> Digital media. (More options for indexing and searching.)

450 books on one CD.

Digital world vs. analog "real world." (Patterns of digital pulses; 1 and 0.)

Real world digitized into digital form - permanence; no degradation. (Digitized picture cannot age; perfect memory.)

Digitized information amenable to rapid transmission. (Information sent down wires at the speed of light.)

Global communications lead to shrinking world - disappearance of "place" as an attribute.

Physical presence vs. "electronic presence" --> new forms of social interaction.

Global communities - distance no longer an obstacle. (Financial traders part of global financial community - physically separate but part of the same "community.")

Stock market. (As many trades in a day as it used to be in a week.)

Increase of information travel rate.

Timeliness of information.

London Stock Exchange - physical "marketplace" rendered redundant.

New social gatherings - linked by common interest, not geography.

Internet and USENET - new forum for exchange of ideas.

Cold fusion - quicker interchange of ideas via USENET news than possible via existing journals.

SeniorNet - computer networks entering everyday lives.

Electronic presence. (Left by electronic traces we leave behind as part of our day to day lives. Constant information gathering.)

Data pollution - wrong information propagated between computers and databases. (Disrupts thousands of lives per year.)

Invasion of privacy - casual information gathering can give rise to distorted views of individuals.

Electronic sweat shops.

Technological evolution outpacing social evolution. (Alvin Toffler, "Future Shock.")

1987 Stock Market crash. ("Programmed selling" instigated avalanche of selling leading to 508 point crash.)

Speed of light as a constraint.

Effect on stability of social systems.

Singapore - developed nation status via transformation into an "information society."

"Digitization" of Singapore - Land Data Hub. (Database on all aspects of Singapore; complete electronic record.)

Singapore - total electronic efficiency.

Social engineering and control of people vs. tool for democracy.

MINITEL - large growth from one to 12,000 choices.

1986 - Student protests against admissions policies successfully coordinated via MINITEL.

The future is digital!

Dependence upon computers.

Computers programmed in "craftsmanlike" manner.

Software errors - no reliable engineering techniques for the production of software.

Software bugs - human consequences; Therac-25 radiation machine software malfunction.

AT&T telephone system crash caused by a single line of bad code. (Bug causes 20,000,000 phone calls being unable to connect and cripples phone network.)

Untestability of large software systems.

1989 - Dallas Fort Worth airport computer failure.

Unlike traditional engineering, small errors can completely cripple entire software systems.

Wheel turns full circle: Babbage's inspiration stemmed from the desire to eliminate errors. However, computers are still prone to errors via programmers, as in Babbage's time.

Communication central to digital future.

Uses of computers different from original goals.

Computer a medium, not a machine.

Additional stuff and thoughts:

This last episode of "The Machine That Changed The World" was produced in advance of the development of the World Wide Web, and thus cannot be expected to cover this development. However, the fact that the WWW is now a part of our lives is a proof of the fast pace of innovation in this field. Though in no way comprehensive, here is a list of some recent developments that might have been included in this series of videos:

* Radio Frequency Technology in Commodity Tracking by Scott Tate, CS 3604, Fall 1996.

* It has come the ability to circumvent the established telephone systems by the use of the Internet and the WWW. This raises the question of the "Internet Telecommunications Software: Need to Grow or Need to Pay?" by Jacob Chuh, CS 3604, Fall 1996.

* Supercomputers were in vogue in 1990, but they were not part of the video series. One of the key persons (some will say THE key person) in the development of modern supercomputers was Seymour Cray. Cray died as a result of a traffic accident in 1996.

Documentary Description

The Machine that Changed the World (1992)

The Machine that Changed the World (1992) is a 5-episode television series on the history of electronic digital computers. It was written and directed by Nancy Linde, and produced by WGBH Television of Boston, Massachusetts, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Backers included the Association for Computing Machinery, the National Science Foundation, and the UNISYS Corporation.

The first three episodes deal with the history of fully electronic general-purpose digital computers from the ENIAC through desktop microcomputers. The pre-history of such machines is examined in the first episode ("Giant Brains"), and includes a discussion of the contributions of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, and others. The fourth episode ("The Thinking Machine") explores the topic of artificial intelligence. The fifth episode ("The World at Your FIngertips") explores the then-newly-emerging worldwide networking of computers. All episodes begin and end with a song by Peter Howell, "Stellae matutinae radius exoritur" ("The morning star's ray arises").

   Episode 1, "Giant Brains" at alternate link
   Episode 2, "Inventing the Future", at alternate link
   Episode 3, "The Paperback Computer", at alternate link
   Episode 4, "The Thinking Machine", at alternate link
   Episode 5, "The World at Your Fingertips", at alternate link


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