The mysterious world of the computer


As you know, each issue has its own theme. This issue of computing — a topic that is so important to what we have covered that it is so important to discuss it.

When I was younger, personal computers were relatively new. They are incredibly mysterious – you have to know the language – and absolutely interesting. I spent countless hours finding one in my mother’s home office, writing simple programs, mapping the dungeons of Zork, and trying to understand the universe inside the box.

Now computers are, obviously, everywhere — in every pocket and car, even on the walls of our homes. And even as computers, and computing, have become more versatile and easily accessible, their functions are always more mysterious today than when I was a kid in the 1980s. Almost every aspect of modern life today is already modulated by systems over which we have no control. This is not just because the network or the service or the algorithm is maintained by some invisible entity. as Will Douglas Heaven’s notes, the nature of how computing has changed with the advancement of artificial intelligence. We want to help demystify things a little bit.

This issue examines how we got to where we were, and where we were going next. Margaret O’Mara’s touching introductory essay based on the trajectory of computing in the larger historical context. Siobhan Roberts ’exploration of misleading P vs. NP question tracing the long road traveled by Sisyphean researchers in an attempt to find a definitive answer. Chris Turner’s review of A Biography of Pixel begins by exploring the complex history of “Digital Light” and builds on an unexpected, absolutely thrilling treatise on the victory of Steamed Hams. (You should read it.)

But history is meant to serve the present. Morgan Ames examines the hype around One Laptop per Child to help us find a better way to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society receive real equity access. Fay Cobb Payton, Lynette Yarger, and Victor Mbarika explain how we think building real pathways into the industry for under -represented groups. Lakshmi Chandrasekaran examining the victory of silicon against other seemingly ineffective technologies (remember spintronics?) shows how those alternatives could ultimately prove their worth. Meanwhile, Clive Thompson took us the ASML story, the Dutch company whose revolutionary process was to keep Moore’s Law alive, at least for now.



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