### Speed II

That is just where the electronic computer comes in. It can keep up.

Then there are many mathematical tables needed today - tables with the values of mathematical functions, tables for building-units in radar apparatus, tables for the temperature characteristics of molecules - which we formerly just did not have at all. No one could summon up enough energy and concentration to make the many thousands of infernally monotonous calculations that are necessary. With electronic computers, the situation is different. Professor X, one evening, formulates his mathematical wishes in a symbolic language agreeable to the computer, claps the shoulders of the engineer on duty, and goes to bed. In the moruing he has his tables, neatly typed - three thousand numbers all correct to seven decimal points.

We cite a further example from a work by Professor Karl Steinbuch of Karlsruhe, Germany - not because it is the only one that occurs to us, but because the professor makes his point so nicely. It concerns scientifically exact weather forecasts made by an electronic computer.

Steinbuch says: "The reliabillty of a weather forecast depends on the quantity of initial data taken into account. If we tried to work out all these starting-point values with an ordinary calculating machine, the weather would arrive before the forecast."

It could hardly be put more concisely.

At this point we cannot help mentioning what everyone else is talking about: intercontinental guided missiles. Whether they are flying on a peaceful errand or a warlike one - if they reach their goals at all they can only do so because their routes were electronically worked out beforehand. We know today that all spacetravel, despite the best turbojet power units and space suits in the world, would be nothing but science-fiction if the electronic computer had not been invented in time. You would not believe how complicated the calculations are that have to be made for every second of a rocket's flight. The starting speed and propulsive force of the power unit, the effect of gravity on the rocket, its mass, friction and angle of flight and a hundred other factors all play their parts. Worst of all, many of these influences change from one moment to another. Gravitational force changes with distance, weight varies according to the amount of fuel consumed, air resistance near the earth is greater than it is when the rocket is farther away... Everything has to be taken into consideration, and everything has to be precalculated. The job can only be done electronically.

We could mention many further examples to show you the kind of feats of which the electronic computers are capable. But the subject is unending. So now we shall turn to a theme that is indispensable in a book like this: the history of the electronic brain.

How Computers Began >>>>

First printed in Germany: 1963