Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Greatest Invention Of All Time?

Science & Technology

In today's modern world, we go through our day to day existence expecting that when we push a button or touch a screen there will be the desired response. That when the traffic light turns green at the intersection, the lights on the cross street will be showing red so that you do not collide with cross traffic. That when we slide our finger across the screen of our i-pad or smart phone the web browser will appear. That when we turn the key in the ignition the car will start. That when the pilot of the jet in which we are traveling to our vacation spot increases throttle input she will get the appropriate response. That the pace-maker implant in my dad's chest will not stop suddenly. That the ATM machine will read our card and respond accordingly. That the assembly line at the factory will move smoothly. In sum, that all our modern applications whether in the kitchen, the living room, on the job, or elsewhere will respond as they should. We go through our day to day expecting results from the push of a button, the flick of a switch, or the swipe of a screen or credit/debit card. We do all this without realizing that at the heart of the functionality of these devices, instruments, applications, or machinery is the microprocessor. The microprocessor (roughly the size of a postage stamp), is considered to be right up there with or even surpassing in significance some of the key inventions in the world. Largely unseen, embedded in the electronics of our devices, applications, instruments, etc., and responsible for getting them to work, the microprocessor is everywhere and in every place. In almost all aspects of our modern life we come under its influence. Yet all it does is initially fetch or acquire instructions, decode  those instructions, execute those instructions, then keep a record of the results of that execution  - and all the while (whether calculating, controlling info, or storing info) doing so with blinding speed. Is the microprocessor the greatest invention of all time? Well, based on its ubiquitous nature in almost all modern technological devices, how could we say otherwise?
 

[Photographic Art by Ric Couchman]