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Is there an End To the Computer Race?
Today the world “electronics” is in general usage. Millions of people have electron watches. There are a lot of various radio and TV sets and tape-recorders in our houses. In factories and plants we are surrounded with electronically controlled machines and instruments, we are carried by airplanes, ships, trains and cars with built-in electronic devices, and satellites circle the globe. In other words, we are living in an electronic world.
And the center of this world is a tiny silicon plate of a few square millimeters, an integrated circuit or a chip, as it is more commonly known. The integrated circuit is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated inventions of man, science and technology. It is in the heart of every electronic device and the more tape-recorder, TV sets and computers we need, the more integrated circuits are required.
When we speak about a further development of computers we mean not only quantity, But also high technology and high speed. As the operation of an integrated circuit depends on microscopic “components”, the purity of all materials and the cleanness at the plant they are produced at must be of the highest quality. A continuous search is going on in laboratories throughout the world for more perfect, reliable and high speed electronic circuits.
In the past it took scientists and researchers a whole lifetime to make a few thousand calculations, whereas for a modern computer this task is a matter of a few seconds. At present computers capable of performing billions of operations a second are required. Supercomputers are different from ordinary computers. The ordinary computer does the computations operation by operation, while the supercomputer operates like a brain: all operations are being done simultaneously. To develop such a computer qualitatively new integrated circuits were required. They are now the basic components of the Russian Elbrus Supercomputer with a speed up to 125 million operations a second.
In the text few years engineers will complete the work on computers of above one billion operations a second. It will take a few more years to produce a 10-billion operations computer. The fifth-generation computers performing 100 billion operations a second will become available in the nearest future. Is there an end to this race?
According to some researchers, we are close to what can be regarded as a true physical limit. But other specialists think that photons will make the operation a thousand times faster. This means that in the future it will be possible to expect the appearance of photon computers and that computations will be done by means of light. Light has several advantages over electronics: light beams are faster, travel in parallel lines and can pass through one another without interference. Already, The optical equivalent of a transistor has been produced, and intensive research on optical-electronic computers is being carried out in a number of countries around the world. By the end of the 20-th century a new age of light may replace the still youthful electronic age. The race is going on.