|U n i v e r s i t é Y O R K U n i v e r s i t y
ATKINSON FACULTY OF LIBERAL AND PROFESSIONAL STUDIES
SCHOOL OF ANALYTIC STUDIES & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
S C I E N C E A N D T E C H N O L O G Y S T U D I E S
STS 3700B 6.0 HISTORY OF COMPUTING AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Lecture 21: The Last 50 Years
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"Civilisation has advanced as people discovered new ways of exploiting
various physical resources such as materials, forces and energies. In
the twentieth century information was added to the list when the
invention of computers allowed complex information processing to be
performed outside human brains. The history of computer technology has
involved a sequence of changes from one type of physical realisation to
another—from gears to relays to valves to transistors to integrated
circuits and so on. Today's advanced lithographic techniques can squeeze
fraction of micron wide logic gates and wires onto the surface of
silicon chips. Soon they will yield even smaller parts and inevitably
reach a point where logic gates are so small that they are made out of
only a handful of atoms. On the atomic scale matter obeys the rules of
quantum mechanics, which are quite different from the classical rules
that determine the properties of conventional logic gates. So if
computers are to become smaller in the future, new, quantum technology
must replace or supplement what we have now. The point is, however, that
quantum technology can offer much more than cramming more and more bits
to silicon and multiplying the clock-speed of microprocessors. It can
support entirely new kind of computation with qualitatively new
algorithms based on quantum principles."
A Barenco, A Ekert, A Sanpera & C Machiavello
[ A Short Introduction to Quantum Computation ]
In this lectures I will only cover the events and trends of the last fifty years which I consider most significant:
- The shift from number crunching to communication, and the advent of the internet and of the web
- The introduction of the personal computer
- The idea of and the first steps toward nano-technology and quantum computing
- The convergence of number crunching and communication: distributed computing
1. The Shift from Computation to Communication: The Internet and the Web
One of the most useful resources documenting the history of the internet is
Michael Hauben's and Ronda Hauben's Netizens Netbook: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet.
In his Foreward, Thomas Truscott praises the work as
"a comprehensive, well documented look at the social aspects of computer networking," and goes on to say: "The authors
examine the present and the turbulent future, but focus on the technical and social roots of the Net."
Michael Hauben is also the author of History of ARPANET: Behind the Net. The Untold History of the ARPANET or The 'Open' History of the ARPANET/Internet.
I am updating this page on April 30, 2003. "Ten years ago, CERN issued a statement declaring that a little known
piece of software called the World Wide Web was in the public domain. That was on 30 April 1993, and it opened
the floodgates to Web development around the world. By the end of the year Web browsers were de rigueur for any
self-respecting computer user, and ten years on, the Web is an indispensable part of the modern communications
landscape. The idea for the Web goes back to March 1989 when CERN Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal
for a 'Distributed Information Management System' for the high-energy physics community. Back then, a new generation
of physics experiments was just getting underway. They were performed by collaborations numbering hundreds of
scientists from around the world - scientists who were ready for a new way of sharing information over the Internet.
The Web was just what they needed. By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee's idea had become the World Wide Web, with its
first servers and browsers running at CERN. Through 1991, the Web spread to other particle physics laboratories
around the World, and was as important as e-mail to those in the know."
[ from Ten Years Public Domain for the Original Web Software ]
A comprehesive history of the web is The World Wide Web History Project.
You may also find NCSA Mosaic History quite
interesting. "The NCSA Mosaic project may have ended in 1997, but the impact of this breakthrough software is still
being felt today."
"The ARPANET started in 1969… The ARPANET was the experimental network connecting
the mainframe computers of universities and other contractors funded
and encouraged by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The ARPANET started out as a research test bed for computer networking, communication protocols,
computer and data resource sharing, etc. However, what it developed into was something
surprising. The widest use of the ARPANET was for computer facilitated human-human communication
using electronic mail (e-mail) and discussion lists." [ from Chapter 5 ]
Sketch Map of the Possible Topology of ARPANET by Larry Roberts (Late 60s)
ARPANET in 1971
ARPANET in 1980
Given today's highly interactive interfaces of computers, it may seem strange that until the 1960s, "computers operated
almost exclusively in batch mode. Programmers punched or had their programs punched onto cards. Then the stack of punched cards
was provided to the local computer center. The computer operator assembled stacks of cards into batches to be feed to
the computer for continuous processing. Often a programmer had to wait over a day in order to see the results from his or her input."
Their operation was essentially sequential in nature. Each job had to wait for the previous one to be finished. "Crucial
to the development of today's global computer networks was the vision of researchers interested in time-sharing.
These researchers began to think about social issues related to time-sharing. They observed the communities that formed from
the people who used time-sharing systems and considered the social significance of these communities. Two of the pioneers
involved in research in time-sharing at MIT, Fernando Corbato and Robert Fano, wrote, 'The time-sharing computer system can
unite a group of investigators in a cooperative search for the solution to a common problem, or it can serve as a community pool
of knowledge and skill on which anyone can draw according to his needs. Projecting the concept on a large scale, one can conceive
of such a facility as an extraordinarily powerful library serving an entire community in short, an intellectual public utility.'"
[ from Chapter 5 ] Notice that time-sharing
is quite different from multitasking: the former is the concurrent use of a computer by two or more users,
while the latter is a computer's ability to execute more than one program or task at the same time.
Joseph Licklider was one of the first people to take a strong interest in the new time-sharing systems introduced in the early
60s, and saw how such system could be shaped into new ways of communicating with the computer. Since Licklider was
the director of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), a division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA),
he was in a position to set the priorities and obtain the appropriate funding for a network, which eventually became the
internet. Between 1963 and 1964 that's precisely what he did. "Both Robert Taylor and Larry Roberts, future successors of
Licklider as director of IPTO, pinpoint Licklider as the originator of the vision which set ARPA's priorities and goals and
basically drove ARPA to help develop the concept and practice of networking computers."
[ from Chapter 5 ] Here is a remarkable statmenet by
"They were just talking about a network where they could have a compatibility across these systems, and at least do some
load sharing, and some program sharing, data sharing that sort of thing. Whereas, the thing that struck me about the time-sharing
experience was that before there was a time-sharing system, let's say at MIT, then there were a lot of individual people who
didn't know each other who were interested in computing in one way or another, and who were doing whatever they could, however
they could. As soon as the time-sharing system became usable, these people began to know one another, share a lot of information,
and ask of one another, 'How do I use this? Where do I find that?' It was really phenomenal to see this computer become a medium
that stimulated the formation of a human community. And so, here ARPA had a number of sites by this time, each of which had
its own sense of community and was digitally isolated from the other one. I saw a phrase in the Licklider memo. The phrase was
in a totally different context something that he referred to as an 'intergalactic network.' I asked him about this… in fact
I said, 'Did you have a networking of the ARPANET sort in mind when you used that phrase?' He said, 'No, I was thinking about a
single time-sharing system that was intergalactic.'" [ from Chapter 5 ]
Further information on J.C.R. Licklider is available in The Netizens Netbook,
(see especially chapters 5, 6, and 7).
This vision however turned out to be more difficult to implement than it had been anticipated. We complain today about
the lack of standardization (different operating systems, different hardware, etc.), but in the early 60s this lack was
much more substantial. What was needed was a communication protocol that would be essentially independent of the
actual machines to be connected in the network. It took some time before an effective protocol was adopted. In part, the
problem was that, as ARPANET grew quite rapidly, the various protocols, while initially satisfactory, would soon show
their limitations (e.g. inability to handle larger amounts of traffic). By 1974 a new protocol, TCP/IP,
designed not only for the present, but also for the future, was introduced. And that, essentially, is what we still use today.
Model of US Universities and Laboratories Net (Click for Larger Image)
There is another way in which we can study the eveolution of the internet, and that's through the vocabulary that
developed, spontaneously, around it. The Jargon File, aka The New Hacker's Dictionary.
in its printed form, "is a collection of slang terms used by various subcultures of computer hackers. Though some technical
material is included for background and flavor, it is not a technical dictionary; what we describe here is the language hackers
use among themselves for fun, social communication, and technical debate. The 'hacker culture' is actually a loosely networked
collection of subcultures that is nevertheless conscious of some important shared experiences, shared roots, and shared values.
It has its own myths, heroes, villains, folk epics, in-jokes, taboos, and dreams. Because hackers as a group are particularly
creative people who define themselves partly by rejection of `normal' values and working habits, it has unusually rich and
conscious traditions for an intentional culture less than 50 years old. As usual with slang, the special vocabulary of hackers
helps hold their culture together—it helps hackers recognize each other's places in the community and expresses shared
values and experiences. Also as usual, not knowing the slang (or using it inappropriately) defines one as an outsider, a mundane,
or (worst of all in hackish vocabulary) possibly even a suit. All human cultures use slang in this threefold way—as a tool
of communication, and of inclusion, and of exclusion."
The Jargon File provides a unique, insider's view of the development of the internet. If to know a language is to know the
people who speak it, then this continuously growing work gives more than a glimpse into the mindset of the people who
developed Unix and the internet.
Here is the definition of hacker:
[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable
systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.
2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about
programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert
at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in 'a Unix hacker.' (Definitions 1 through 5
are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy
hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.
8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence 'password hacker,'
'network hacker.' The correct term for this sense is cracker.
The term 'hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network.
For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person
described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).
It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves
something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is
thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not,
you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.
This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and
the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics
tinkerers in the mid-1950s."
Finally, here are some other, selected, resources that you may find useful for understanding the internet revolution.
To get a sense of the sequence of events, browse through Hobbes' Internet Timeline,
which highlights most of the key events and technologies which helped shape the Internet as we know it today.
WWW Growth (Hobbes' Internet Timeline © 2003 Robert H Zakon)
The Internet Society's A Brief History of the Internet.
"In this paper, several of us involved in the development and evolution of the Internet share our views of its origins and history."
PBS presents a beautiful graphical version of this period: Life on the Internet.
The Colline Report: Collective Invention and European Policies
illustrates the European views on the history, nature and purpose of the net.
A great site is the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies,
"an online, not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to research, teach, support, and create diverse and dynamic elements of cyberculture."
The State of the Internet 2000 and The State of the Internet 2001, prepared by the United States Internet Council and International Technology and Trade Associates (ITTA),
have become "cornerstone document[s] for understanding Internet trends." These reports provide "an overview of recent Internet
trends and examine how the Internet is affecting both business and social relationships around the world. [ The 2001 ] Report
has also expanded its vision to include sections covering the international development of the Internet as well as the rapid
emergence of wireless Internet technologies."
[ from State of the Internet 2000 ]
2. The Introduction of the Personal Computer
One of the best sources for the history of the PC is Ken Polsson's Chronology of Personal Computers.
I have extracted (and edited) from it the following, simplified, chronology, :
- 1956 First transistorized computer: the TX-O at the MIT
- 1958 Jack Kilby, at Texas Instruments, completes the first integrated circuit (IC)
- 1960 Digital Equipment introduces the first minicomputer, the PDP-1, the first commercial machine with keyboard and monitor
- 1963 Douglas Engelbart invents the mouse
- 1964 John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, at Dartmouth College, develop the BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language.
The American Standard Association adopts ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) as a standard code for data transfer.
- 1965 Gordon Moore, at Fairchild Semiconductor, predicts that transistor density on integrated circuits would double every 12 months for the next ten years. This prediction is revised in 1975 to doubling every 18 months, and becomes known as Moore's Law.
- 1969 Honeywell releases the H316 'Kitchen Computer,' the first home computer
- 1972 Intel introduces a 200kHz 8008 chip, the first commercial 8-bit microprocessor
- 1973 First portable PC: the Canadian-made MCM/70 microcomputer
- 1974 MITS completes the first Altair 8800 microcomputer prototype
- 1975 MITS delivers the first generally-available Altair 8800.
IBM unveils the IBM 5100 Portable Computer. It is a briefcase-size minicomputer with BASIC,
16kB of RAM, tape storage drive holding 204 KB per tape, keyboard, and built-in 5-inch screen
- 1976 Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs finish a computer circuit board called the Apple I computer.
The term 'personal computer' first appears in the May issue of Byte magazine.
The Apple I computer board is sold in kit form
- 1981 IBM's Personal Computer, the IBM 5150, is announced
The MCM/70 (1972 - 1973)
Notice that it is difficult to determine which machine was actually the first personal computer. For example,
York's Computer Museum is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the unveiling of the world’s first portable PC,
a Canadian-made MCM/70 microcomputer, designed by André Arpin and others between 1972 and 1973. See also
York University Computer Museum and Center for the History
of Canadian Microcomputing Industry. Here is the abstract of a commemorative lecture by André Arpin:
"Tiny by today's standards, yet the MCM computer with only 16 k bytes of address space available for the system
and the program combined was used to solve business, engineering and scientific problems. Implemented on an
Intel 8008 using APL, it used a 32 characters display, a digital cassette tape, an object oriented file system,
virtual memory, an active I/O bus and a switching power supply with battery backup. It was ahead of its time and
stayed that way for a surprisingly long time. Since peripheral controllers were not readably available at the
time, keyboard, tape, disk, printer, CRT controllers and the switching power supply were all designed and implemented. Then
as technology evolved, micro coded processors were also designed and produced."
The first PC: MITS Altair 8800 (1975)
With the Altair 8800, to enter programs or data, one had to set the toggle
switches on the front. There was no keyboard, video terminal or paper
tape reader. All programming was in the machine code (binary digits).
The Altair 8800 also lacked output devices such as printers. The output was signaled by
the pattern of flashing lights on the front panel. The first models came
with only 256 bytes of memory.
An Early Prototype: IBM 5100 Portable Computer (1975)
Apple-1 Mainboard Logo Close-Up (1976)
The 'First' PC: IBM 5150 (1981)
The IBM Personal Computer, aka as IBM 5150, was announced on August 12, 1981. It featured a 4.77MHz Intel
8088 (16bit), 16kB of RAM, an 83-key keyboard, 2 full-height 160kB floppy disk drives, TTL green phosphor screen which could
display 25 rows x 80 characters, and for operating system it ran IBM Personal Computer DOS.
3. The First Steps Toward Nano-Technology and Quantum Computing
"The high speed modern computer sitting in front of you is fundamentally
no different from its gargantuan 30 ton ancestors, which were equipped
with some 18000 vacuum tubes and 500 miles of wiring! Although computers
have become more compact and considerably faster in performing their
task, the task remains the same: to manipulate and interpret an encoding
of binary bits into a useful computational result."
[ from The Quantum Computer: An Introduction ]
It is therefore not suprising that, in recent years, scientists and engineers have started exploring
different architectures and different physical phenomena in a quest for new, more powerful kind of
computers. In addition, physicists and mathematicians have been working at generalizing the work
of Turing, Shannon and others which is the foundation of the computer as we know it. If you recall
[ see Lecture 19 ], Shannon's formula for the quantity
of information carried by one of n possible and equally probable
messages is H = log2(n). This formula bears a remarkable resemblance
to the formula the expresses the amount of disorder, or entropy> in a
physical system, for example a gas. Not only does this coincidence turn out to be real, but other
connections with information have been discovered in quantum mechanics.
Relationships Between Quantum Mechanics and Information Theory
It seems therefore plausible to imagine computers that rely, not on xlassical, Newtonian physics,
but on quantum mechanics—the physics of the molecular, atomic, and subatomic world. Enters
" In a quantum computer, the fundamental unit of information (called
a quantum bit or qubit), is not binary but rather more quaternary in
nature. This qubit property arises as a direct consequence of its
adherence to the laws of quantum mechanics which differ radically from
the laws of classical physics. A qubit can exist not only in a state
corresponding to the logical state 0 or 1 as in a classical bit, but
also in states corresponding to a blend or superposition of these
classical states. In other words, a qubit can exist as a zero, a one, or
simultaneously as both 0 and 1, with a numerical coefficient
representing the probability for each state. This may seem
counterintuitive because everyday phenomenon are governed by classical
physics, not quantum mechanics—which takes over at the atomic level…"
[ from Jacob West's very clear article The Quantum Computer: An Introduction ]
We are still at the very beginning of quantum computing. However, "scientists may eventually mark as a milestone the day
in 2001 when Isaac Chuang and his colleagues at IBM determined that the two prime factors of the number 15 are three and five.
What made their calculation remarkable, of course, wasn’t the grammar school arithmetic, but that the calculation had been
performed by seven atomic nuclei in a custom-designed fluorocarbon molecule."
[ from Harnessing Quantum Bits ]
Another approach, almost at the intersection between classical and quantum computing, consists in harnessing the
natural computer life comes equipped with, DNA.
"Leonard Adleman is often called the inventor of DNA computers. His article in a 1994 issue of the journal Science outlined
how to use DNA to solve a well-known mathematical problem, called the directed Hamilton Path problem, also known as
the 'traveling salesman' problem. The goal of the problem is to find the shortest route between a number of cities, going
through each city only once. As you add more cities to the problem, the problem becomes more difficult. Adleman chose to find
the shortest route between seven cities.
You could probably draw this problem out on paper and come to a solution faster than Adleman did using his DNA test-tube
computer. Here are the steps taken in the Adleman DNA computer experiment:
The success of the Adleman DNA computer proves that DNA can be used to calculate complex mathematical problems.
However, this early DNA computer is far from challenging silicon-based computers in terms of speed. The Adleman DNA
computer created a group of possible answers very quickly, but it took days for Adleman to narrow down the possibilities.
Another drawback of his DNA computer is that it requires human assistance. The goal of the DNA computing field is
to create a device that can work independent of human involvement."
[ from How DNA Computers Will Work ]
See also Using 'Nature's Toolbox,' a DNA Computer Solves a Complex Problem.
The question of course arises, and indeed it has arisen, as to how powerful, fast, small, computers may be, at least
theoretically, in principle. Read The Ultimate Limits of Computers.
Skip the formulas, if you don't understand them.
- Strands of DNA represent the seven cities. In genes, genetic coding is represented by the letters A, T, C and G.
Some sequence of these four letters represented each city and possible flight path.
- These molecules are then mixed in a test tube, with some of these DNA strands sticking together. A chain of these
strands represents a possible answer.
- Within a few seconds, all of the possible combinations of DNA strands, which represent answers, are created in
the test tube.
- Adleman eliminates the wrong molecules through chemical reactions, which leaves behind only the flight paths that
connect all seven cities.
4. Computing and Communication Converge: Distributed Computing
In the last few years the term convergence has become quite ubiquitous.
It usually means "the combining of personal computers, telecommunication, and television into a user experience that is
accessible to everyone." I will use it here is a somewhat different sense, to mean the coming together of computing
and communication. As we have seen, the computer was first conceived as a computational device, as a number-crunching
machine. However, the internet first, and especially the web later, shifted the emphasis sharply toward communication. We are now
witnessing a sort of synthesis of these two conception in the form of distributed computing.
Distributed computing is achieved either by connecting together, via the internet, an essentially unlimited number
of computers which, during their idle periods, can work on a common task, or by connecting together, via a high-speed local or dedicated network,
and using specialized software, a number of machines (called a cluster) which can work together as one parallel machine
("rougly speaking, a parallel program has multiple tasks (or: processes) that cooperate to execute the program." [ from
An Introduction to Parallel Computing ])
A good introduction can be found at Internet-based Distributed Computing Projects:
"This site is designed for non-technical people who are interested in learning about, and participating in, public,
Internet-based projects which apply distributed computing science to solving real-world problems."
Here is another, good definition of distributed combuting from Grid Computing Info Centre :
"Grid is a type of parallel and distributed system that enables the sharing, selection, and aggregation of resources
distributed across 'multiple' administrative domains based on their (resources) availability, capability, performance, cost,
and users' quality-of-service requirements. If distributed resources happen to be managed by a single, global centralised
scheduling system, then it is a cluster."
And here are two examples of distributed projects.
"Anyone, anywhere with access to a personal computer, could help
find a cure for cancer by giving 'screensaver time' from their computers
to the world's largest ever computational project, which will screen 3.5
billion molecules for cancer-fighting potential. The project is being
carried out by Oxford University's Centre for Computational Drug Discovery - a
unique 'virtual centre' funded by the National Foundation for Cancer Research
(NFCR), which is based in the Department of Chemistry and linked with international
research groups via the worldwide web - in collaboration with United Devices,
a US-based distributed computing technology company, and Intel, who are sponsoring
Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. "If we assume that our alien neighbors are trying to contact us,
we should be looking for them. There are currently several
programs that are now looking for the evidence of life elsewhere
in the cosmos. Collectively, these programs are called SETI (the
Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.) SETI@home is a
scientific experiment that harnesses the power of hundreds of
thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by
running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio
telescope data. There's a small but captivating possibility that
your computer will detect the faint murmur of a civilization
"The goal of Genome@home is to design new genes that can form working proteins in the cell.
Genome@home uses a computer algorithm (SPA), based on the physical and biochemical rules by which
genes and proteins behave, to design new proteins (and hence new genes) that have not been found
in nature. By comparing these 'virtual genomes' to those found in nature, we can gain a much better
understanding of how natural genomes have evolved and how natural genes and proteins work.
Some important applications of the Genome@home virtual genome protein design database:
engineering new proteins for medical therapy; designing new pharmaceuticals; assigning functions
to the dozens of new genes being sequenced every day; understanding protein evolution."
Readings, Resources and Questions
Read Doc Searls and David Weinberger's World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else.
"All we need to do is pay attention to what the Internet really is.
It's not hard. The Net isn't rocket science. It isn't even 6th grade
science fair, when you get right down to it. We can end the tragedy of
Repetitive Mistake Syndrome in our lifetimes — and save a few trillion
dollars’ worth of dumb decisions — if we can just remember one simple
fact: the Net is a world of ends. You're at one end, and everybody and
everything else are at the other ends." Do you agree? Browse through the discussion,
and perhaps add your comments to it.
A very interesting site is Atlas of Cyberspaces.
"This is an atlas of maps and graphic representations of the
geographies of the new electronic territories of the Internet, the
World-Wide Web and other emerging Cyberspaces. These maps of Cyberspaces—cybermaps—help
us visualise and comprehend the new digital landscapes beyond our computer screen, in the wires of
the global communications networks and vast online information resources. The cybermaps, like maps
of the real-world, help us navigate the new information landscapes, as well being objects of aesthetic
interest. They have been created by 'cyber-explorers' of many different disciplines, and from all
corners of the world."
Another, equally interesting site is GVU WWW User Survey.
"Since its beginning in 1994, the GVU WWW User Survey has
accumulated a unique store of historical and up-to-date information on
the growth and trends in Internet usage. It is valued as an independent,
objective view of developing Web demographics, culture, user attitudes,
and usage patterns. Recently the focus of the Survey has been expanded
to include commercial uses of the Web, including advertising, electronic
commerce, intranet Web usage, and business-to-business transactions."
A useful resource on nano-computing is Nanoelectronics & Nanocomputing,
where you can find many short introductory articles and links.
Other good references to nanotechnology and quantum computing (the two areas overlap to some extent) are
Introductions and Tutorials at
qbit.org, the home of Oxford's Centre for Quantum Computation,
which "provides useful information and links to all material in the field of quantum computing and information processing,"
and Simon Benjamin and Artur Ekert's A Short Introduction to Quantum-Scale Computing.
And here are a few resources on distributed computing.
A very informative site, with many relevant links, is Grid Computing Planet.
"Founded in 1997, our project has grown to encompass thousands of
users around the world. distributed.net's computing power has grown to
become equivalent to that of more than 160000 PII 266MHz computers
working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year."
"TeraGrid is a multi-year effort to build and deploy the world's largest,
fastest, distributed infrastructure for open scientific research. When
completed, the TeraGrid will include 20 teraflops of computing power
distributed at five sites, facilities capable of managing and storing
nearly 1 petabyte of data, high-resolution visualization environments,
and toolkits for grid computing. These components will be tightly
integrated and connected through a network that will operate at 40
gigabits per second—the fastest research network on the planet."
Just to give you a taste of where we may be headed for, read Kimberly Patch's article
On the Backs of Ants:
New Networks Mimic the Behavior of Insects and Bacteria in Technology Review.