Computing, circa Apollo 11

by Patrick on April 17, 2011

in Prof. Winston's Ideas, Space


Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

If you didn’t make it to the MIT+150 Symposium, Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything, too bad. It was really good.

Representative examples: Our own Charles Vest reminisced about the transformation of practically everything. John Hennessy, President of Stanford, and himself a Computer Scientist, talked about computer architecture. Nicholas Negroponte and Eric Lander covered one-laptop per child and the computational revolution in biology. Andrew Lo explained the role of computing in financial catastrophes, and Rodney Brooks offered his views on the future of personal robots. A panel discussion featured five winners of the Turing Award.

Videos of the talks will, of course, soon be up on the World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee, who spoke about the future of the web.

Computing technology has moved so fast, we all tend to take it for granted now, so it was good to have a party favor, delivered at the symposium dinner, that reminds us of how far we have come. Someone found in a warehouse somewhere a pallet full of six-inch Pickett 600ES slide rules, the same model that Buzz Aldrin (MIT ScD ’63) took with him on Apollo 11.

I checked it out.  Yep, 2 × 2 = 4.  I figured it out several billion times slower
than my laptop and only got an approximate answer.

No doubt when the speakers prepare for MIT’s bicentennial, they will look at our videos
and laugh at how excited we all said we were, just as we chuckle over slide rules in
2011.

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