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It’s come to this
January 9, 2015
by: Timothy W. Shire
Though the computer, as a device, has been evolving as civilisation has advanced, the advent of the personal computer in the last part of the 1970s is what we all know and use, ascribing to them the dubious name “computer.” I have been using these machines for the past thirty-five years and in that time, I have come to accept change, rapid change, as the norm.

It was in the late 1990s that the solid performance of computers really took hold and since then, we have come to rely upon them in all of the activities that we do. They are ubiquitous, hard working tools and as such, we have desktop ones, portable laptop versions and of course, the all in one iMac type display combined with the computer. But things change and the massive popularity of the iPad, a kind of hybrid computer/portable/communications device, has truly altered the way we consider our trusty old computer.

When Apple sold their pocketable digital music player, the iPod and then morphed it with a touch screen, the nature of computing and what that meant changed. It was hand held, energy efficient and with the touchscreen, could access the Internet, surfing, playing games, sending messages and mail so that it was immediately identified as a business and student tool.

The iPod is so important in the latest step forward in the technological world. They are still sold, but Apple and other tech companies, realised that this was a breakthrough and they added a camera or two, then complex communications technology and then made it a cell phone. Of course it is far more than a cell phone and so it is referred to as a “smartphone” with iPhone now in its sixth version and other competitors churning out various devices with unique features.

Clearly, the iPad was merely a merger of the iPod concept, the iPhone and the laptop computer. By the way, if you still haven’t bought an iPad, consider spending the extra hundred, or so dollars, to get the cell phone version. We have two of them and have no need whatever for an iPhone.

I really need to fuse these concepts together, because as time has moved along, what we do with our computers, has altered dramatically, as they have evolved. I remember when I was talking my wife into getting an Apple ][+ back in 1981, that she wanted to know, and quite rightly so, “what would we do with it?”

What we do with to seems to relate most strongly with what it can do. Functionality of the computer, no matter what form it takes, continues to grow and expand exponentially.

The iPhone and iPad both work quite nicely without a keyboard as they can accept and carry out voice commands. I did my first dictated story for Ensign a year ago. But there are three major developments that change the whole world of computer technology. Processor capability, memory capacity and the massive use of inexpensive and fast data transmission making the “cloud” indispensable.

Processors have not grown by leaps and bounds, they have shrunk over and over again, so that now, the central processing units involve layers of components dividing up the chores, while using less electricity and functioning with 64 calculations being carried out simultaneously. The core of the central processor has dual, quad and even eight cores, working together. The power of these things is actually very hard to describe, simply because they are not only working at multiple tasks, but they are doing their work in nanoseconds.

While the tiny processor is awe inspiring, the cost of digital memory is amazing. The original iPods had tiny hard drives to store their data, but the iPhone, iPad and even our desktop machines, are now utilising huge amounts of memory with very fast chips. My laptop does not have a hard drive in the conventional sense, but has instead a 256GB solid state storage. The files for Ensign now reside, not on a hard drive, but on a little thumb drive, with a capacity of 128Gb. In the past month, I bought two external hard drives for storage of data, the small one is a pocket sized one terabyte drive and the other a four Tb drive. Remember our Apple //e with 32 kilobytes of memory and our early hard drives with twenty to five hundred megabytes, now the Mac mini I use has a desktop memory of 8GB and a 1 TB hard drive.

The “cloud” is one of those things that doesn’t fit everyone so well. If you are on the go, using your iPhone, iPad, or laptop, the movement of data to and from the internet and its storage solutions, is a costly thing, but almost all software today, relies upon this feature. In addition, most of the costly software we all once relied upon to use on our computers, is available today online, not resident on our devices at all.

So it has come to this!

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Computer technology has benefited from each development as innovation is piled upon innovation. To carry out the full computational abilities and then some of demands of the smart phone, new micro energy efficient processors are necessary, but they are as powerful, or perhaps more powerful than the processors in our ageing desktop machines. My desktop Mac Mini is a full five years old and even though it runs the latest operating system, it is over the hill. That compounding of innovation has meant that the manufacturers keep on selling because their new products are so much better than the old ones.

That little CuBox i4Pro seen in the picture at the top of the page is a full computer, the whole shebang and as you can see it is sitting on the laptop keyboard and is only four keys wide. It is made by an Israeli company, fitted with an ARM processor and loaded with Google’s Android operating system, although the one in the picture has been updated with a version of Linux installed on the micro SD card in a slot. With bluetooth, WiFi, ethernet, HDMI, USB and hard drive connections this is a computer.

There are many trends, so many that it is confusing just to mention them but one that dominated the past three years has been the integration of computational devices and entertainment. We now have smart televisions and our TV has no less than three boxes connected to it accessing various video and audio sources. We have a
MAX Sasktel box with its DVR, a Western Digital media player and an Apple TV.

We, as a technological family are still clinging to cable television mainly so we can access Rider games and the National each night but otherwise we make little use of the connection. Of the rest of our family two have “cut the cord.”

I detest commercials on television and as a result have found sources that I can download on the internet and those are played by using the
Western Digital media player.

Apple TV is used mainly to access Netflix although we can do that with our iPads and the Western Digital Media player. The Apple TV also has a large number of other streaming television sources all of which are commercial free.

One of the uses people make of the little CuBox is connected to a television and accessing streaming video on demand services. Surprisingly almost everything from network and cable television is available using online streaming. All of it without cost and in dramatic quality up to 1080P. Movies and TV shows are being watched on home televisions using little computers like this or the earlier computer on a card
“raspberry pi.”

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This month, Apple will be shipping its iWatch which is a confusing computer to wear on your wrist, that requires your iPhone to be functional.

There are no predictions here. Things will just keep on evolving, there will be regressive steps with progressive ones, the complexities that can now be accomplished with this technology is more than a modest threat. Not just government agencies, foreign and domestic, can track your life is so many ways, but corporations are doing the same to an amazing and every increasing degree. The power of the software with so much memory available means
“Big-data” is a real thing. To add to the threat, everything we do is tagged with a thing called “metadata,” which government authorities proudly point out that they can use ,without any legal oversight.

But snooping and monitoring are only a tiny fraction of what is possible. With this kind of computing power, facial recognition is becoming a standard part of our everyday lives and to be certain the age of privacy is something of long long ago.

If you are not sufficiently disturbed by all this
Stephen Hawking and other technological thinkers, tell us that “singularity” is within reach. What that means is that computer technology is very close to having self-awareness, which involves self determination and all that such power involves. Artificial intelligence is well established and growing at the same rate as the size of chips are shrinking and Hawking says that this is the greatest threat to our species.

In the movie
A Space Odyssey 2001” HAL the computer takes over the ship and begins sorting out the threat to the mission, humans. “Have a nice day, Dave.”