all the colors

April 15, 2008

The Electronic Brain Machine

Filed under: books,my world — Kathy @ 4:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

My recovery hasn’t been as smooth as I would have liked due to what the doctor calls “residual pain” in my right arm. I like to call it “THAT @#*&)#! PAIN IN MY ARM” but really and truly I gave up all swearing a few days before Andy came home and I’m not sure if writing it out in silly symbols violates my goal. But I digress. Yesterday I visited with the good Doctor Berry who put me on a few new meds to see if the “nerve root,” will calm down, even though the surgery has already given the thing plenty of room to function normally. I liken this to a crying child who wants an ice cream cone and gets so worked up that when you hand her the desired treat she can’t stop crying. That’s my nerve root. Just throwing a tantrum. I should send it to bed without supper.

One thing that has made life more tolerable during recovery is my trusty macbook which provides the wonderful diversion of the interwebosphere. And also books. Always books. When I came across this explanation of what a computer is, published in 1963 in a set of children’s books which my sisters and I used to love when we were wee ones ourselves, I got a big kick out of it. So here is a little crazy nostalgia, including the first part of the article, which was written by an anonymous guy who liked to use italics and quote marks a lot and who was clearly afraid computers would someday take over the world.

The Electronic Brain Machine

“One of the strangest things we hear about in science these days (and probably for many days to come) is the electric brain. Electric brains are also called electronic computers. They are electronic. They use electronic tubes just as your radio or television does. They are computers too. A computer is something that can figure out a problem in arithmetic.

Now we know what electric brains are. What they aren’t is very surprising. To begin with, they are not ‘brains.’ They can’t ‘think.’ They are, really, giant adding machines. They do all their work by simple arithmetic. But they do it at such amazing speed that they can solve many of our toughest scientific problems in just a few minutes or sometimes seconds.


In telling the story of these ‘brains’ that aren’t really brains, we will also be telling the wonderful story of why it is that your brain–even if you are still in school–is really a better brain than the very biggest of the machines that we have come to call electric brains.

In the very first place, an electric brain has only two thoughts in all the thousands of miles of wire and thousands of tubes that may go to make up its ‘head.’ Many people, when they hear that, don’t believe it. They say that such remarkable machines must have more than two simple thoughts. But the fact is that they haven’t. The only two thoughts that an electric brain has are ‘Off’ and ‘On.’ In other words, either there is or there isn’t electricity flowing through one of its tubes or wires. In its basic form an electric brain is nothing more than thousands of switches that go either ‘On’ or ‘Off.’ “

So kudos to The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls. Indeed, the prediction was right that we would be hearing about computers “for many days to come.” I’m just glad somewhere along the line we dropped the name “electronic brain machine.” And that they got sized down just a tiny bit. And that they actually do more than arithmetic problems. Like provide great diversions for me during nerve tantrums.


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