Last time, I touched on the rise of the robot worker, and how the changes brought about by these advances will impact work practices in the near future. I’m going to take a quick step back today and look at the changes that have allowed this to happen.
The dawn of modern computing
One of the things that sets humans apart is the way in which we create technology to make our lives simpler. That’s why devices (like the abacus) that help us do the most basic of computing tasks – simple math – was invented thousands of years ago. That’s going just a bit too far back for our topic today. Better to start in the modern era. So, just where does modern computing begin?
Most people would place that moment with the work of Alan Turing during the 1930s and 1940s. Turing was a mathematician who had a great insight. In simplest terms, Turing realized that a machine could solve any math-based problem at speeds far beyond that of any human as long as the problem could be represented as an algorithm (i.e., a step-by-step list of procedures). And because the problem can be solved, the machine can be programmed to perform new actions based on the arrived-at solution.
Now, anyone can have an idea. The key part is to actually do something about it. And Turing did. In addition to the insight above, Turing also developed the practical proof that showed how to build these machines. And then he built one – an actual working computer! Thanks to his insight and invention, Turing was able to break codes that literally had 158 quintillion (that’s 158 followed by 18 zeroes) possible combinations once per day, every day, for two years. Without computers, that task would have taken humans hundreds of years just to break a single such code.
Now, few of us are faced with such challenges. However, nearly every event in nature and just about every task can be described in list-based procedural math terms. This is why computing lets us do so much – as long as an undertaking can be described in terms understood by a computer, computers will be able to do the task at lightning speeds.
It bears noting no modern user would recognize Turing’s machine as a computer. What Turing built was a huge, sprawling machine that was full of plugs, switches, belts, dials, and many other (literal) nuts and bolts. It also filled a full room.
The computers that followed his machine were even bigger – they filled whole buildings, weighed tons, and cost millions. What’s really strange to note though, is that, for all the size and cost of these early machines, their computing power is extraordinarily low by modern standards.
Remember how I just mentioned that Turing’s machine could do about 158 quintillion calculations every day? It was the fastest machine of its time. Today, our fastest computer is China’s Tianhe-2 with a speed of 54.9 petaflops. By the way, a petaflop means one thousand trillion calculations per second. Just so that you get the scale of that speed: There’s less than half a billion stars in our galaxy. Impressed yet?
The thing is though, we don’t have to look at our most advanced machines to be impressed. Much (well, most, if we’re honest with ourselves) of our gadgets would be supercomputers in ages past. For that matter, they’d be supercomputers just a few short years ago. Here are some interesting facts:
- A single modern laptop has more computing power than all the computers of the early 1970s in America put together
- A GPS device today is hundreds of times faster than the computer that sent the first rocket to the moon
- The iPad 2 is faster than all or most supercomputers released from 1988 through 1994
- The iPhone 4 has four times as much processing power as the Mars Rover
Yes. Read that last bit again. Older mobile phones like the iPhone 4 has more power than a billion-dollar machine designed to crawl and survey the surface of another planet millions of miles away.
The evolution of “Work smarter”
We’ve come to a point where the average smartphone and mobile device puts unbelievable amounts of power in the hands of all users. When those are paired together with modern business process automation, what emerges?
I would argue that the answer is “a golden age of business computing”. Thanks to the power in our mobile devices, we can now:
- Provide important services to people in remote regions
- Get (business) intelligence from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection
- Connect with people everywhere, letting us pool together more knowledge and wisdom than has ever been possible in history
We don’t even have to think in such global terms to see how this helps us, do we? We now have the means to expand our offerings and services to just about everyone, with little real cost. The key is to know how to use technology - especially business automation - to work smarter.
Throughout this month, we’ll be covering important facts and events in modern mobility, and its impact and uses in business (and other crucial aspects of life). In the meantime, if you need help managing modern technology in your company, contact us at Cimpl! We’re Canada’s leader in IT and telecom expense management, and we’ve been helping organizations with technology management for 15 years already!