I have to grin at the "future" depicted in movies – especially the ones with computers that can do almost anything. Anyone who has looked at a "blue screen of death" knows that computers at best are delicate tools that can fail at any moment. But one that is self-aware? Ah, just pull the plug already.
My computer at home is fast. I built it (which as a physical task isn't that difficult). The main processing chip has this huge metal finned assembly on top of it to keep it cool. Installing that assembly was the most difficult tasks of the building process. And it works, keeping the main processor chip well within its temperature limits.
I had a relatively fast laptop a couple of years ago that basically burnt up. The main board in it got so hot the solder melted and some processing chips came loose. It's a goner. The cooling fins in it were no bigger than your thumb. No wonder it got hot.
Supercomputers use a cooling technique that was recently discovered. If you cool a computer down really, really cold, like close to absolute zero, the resistance in the electrical circuits drops to zero. No resistance – no heat buildup. It's called super cooling. And it's one of the reasons supercomputers are so expensive. Not only are the parts high dollar, but also the cooling system is exotic. Oh, absolute zero is when all movement stops; even molecules stop vibrating. It is about -273 degrees Centigrade or 459° below zero in Fahrenheit. No lab has reached it yet.
The human brain is the most complicated computer we know. Let's face it, we are self-aware. So how come our brain doesn't overheat with all the calculations it's faced with daily? In fact, it must stay within a very narrow temperature range or it ceases to function. 'Tis a puzzlement. Perhaps the supercomputer for the future will be more like our brains with cooling circuits like our blood vessels circulating at the microscopic level.
One feature of the futuristic movies stands true. War accelerates technological advances. We are motivated by self-survival and are willing to push the envelope infinitely harder when threatened. The Terminator is a movie example. The airplane is a real life one. Space travel is also in this category because it was motivated by the cold war. When Russia launched the first satellite, the "war" was on! If you were alive then, you remember. I do. The thought of being attacked from outer space. It was scary. And we can thank the military for supersonic flight and our sophisticated GPS systems.
As long as there are people of different cultures and more importantly different religions, there will be conflicts or threats of conflict. We will continue to make economic decisions that help assure our survival, decisions that in a business world make no sense, like sending a man to the moon or building a supersonic aircraft solely to fly at high altitudes and take pictures of troop movement. But like leading edge technology today that is prohibitively expensive, trickle down technology will eventually reach you and me in the form of advances in what we can buy and use.
In closing, if you haven't read James Thompson's article on job hunting in this online publication, I recommend you do so, even if you are not looking for a job. One of my sons is a recruiter in another field and he wishes his potential recruits would follow Jim's advice.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.