After half a century, the revolution in computer technology continues to rapidly transform the world about us. For reasons that are fundamentally economic, the atomic building blocks on which that revolution is based are semiconductor electronic components -- chips. It has been estimated that technological improvements in semiconductors accounted for 40 percent to 60 percent of the price-performance improvement in computers in the late 1990s. Those rapid declines in computer prices in turn led to much wider usage of computers and significant improvement in U.S. productivity growth during the same period.
The first electronic digital computers used during World War II to crack enemy codes, calculate artillery firing tables, and design the first nuclear weapons were massive aggregations of expensive, fragile, bulky, unreliable, and power-hungry vacuum tubes. The postwar invention and refinement of the transistor made it possible to replace these early computers with more inexpensive, compact, reliable, and lower-power versions. At the end of the 1950s, the development of the first integrated circuits (ICs) in the U.S. meant that a complete section of circuitry for a computer -- including not just transistors, but other electronic components and their interconnections -- could now be put on a single silicon chip. The first ICs produced in volume were designed for use in guidance systems for U.S. ICBMs. In the mid-1960s, the use of lower-cost ICs, using technologies perfected on defense-funded production lines, spread to the commercial computer models used by businesses, laboratories, and universities. ...
To read the rest, sign up to try World Politics Review
Sign up for two weeks of free access with your credit card. Cancel any time during the free trial and you will be charged nothing.
Request a free trial for your office or school. Everyone at a given site can get access through our institutional subscriptions.
- Strategic Horizons: For Hint of Iraq’s Future, Take Another Look at Vietnam War
- Reality Check: The Real Iraq War Debate’s Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy
- Global Insights: New Advances Challenge Old Truths About China’s Nuclear Posture
- Strategic Horizons: Robotic Revolution Opens New Front for Homeland Security
- World Citizen: Camp David Summit Is U.S. Debut for Rising Saudi Prince