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Computing 

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The following articles are reprinted solely as items of interest for the independent evaluation by members of the Association 
of Computer Users, Inc. The opinions, statements of fact, and/or conclusions expressed herein are not those of the Association. 


The Superchip 


Vast Computing Power 
Is Seen as More Circuits 
Squeeze on a Tiny Part 


Density Could Make Possible 
Machines That Can Read 
Print or Talk to People 

Design, Cost Problems Loom 


By Richard A. Shaffer 

Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal 

It’s said that a machinist once engraved 
“How’s this?” on the head of a pin and sent 
it to a fellow craftsman. The reply came 
back, “Not so hot,” written on the head of 
the same pin-inside the “o” of “how.” 

Similar feats are becoming commonplace 
In the world of computers as more and more 
electronic circuits are squeezed into less and 
less space. The calculating power of yester¬ 
day’s room-size computers is packed today 
into single chips, or pieces, of silicon almost 
small enough to pass through the eye of a 
needle. The chips-complex semiconductors 
called large-scale integrated circuits, or 
LSIs-contain thousands of transistors and 
other parts. 

That will swell to hundreds of thousands 
or even millions of parts with the next step 
in miniaturization. It is known as very 
large-scale integration, or VLSI. 

Many experts believe that VLSI will 
make it possible, perhaps within five years, 
to compress the number-handling prowess of 
a modem, large computer into a single part 
about the size of a match head. The advent 
of such superchips, they say, could prove to 
be as much a boon for the computer and 
semiconductor industries as the leap from 
transistors to integrated circuits in the early 
1960s. For superchips may open the way to 


computers that anyone can use-compact, 
inexpensive machines able to talk to people 
and listen, to answer questions posed in ev¬ 
eryday language, and to read print and 
handwriting. 

Computers for Everybody 

“If you think what we have today is 
amazing, just wait for VLSI,” says George 
H. Heilmeier, vice president of corporate re¬ 
search, development and engineering at 
Texas Instruments Inc., the large maker of 
semiconductors. “Once people can interact 
with computers in their own terms,” he 
says, the machines “will be everywhere, the 
way telephones and typewriters are today.” 

In giving birth to the promising super¬ 
chip, however, industry faces a host of prob¬ 
lems. VLSI will require costly and exotic 
new manufacturing methods because com¬ 
puter circuits already are so dense they are 
bumping agahast barriers posed by the laws 
of physics. In addition, manufacturers con¬ 
cede they don’t yet know how to design dr 
cults of far-greater density, nor whether the 
effort will be worth the cost, nor who win 
want all that number-crunching capability. 
“We’re asking questions we never asked be¬ 
fore VLSI,” says Murray A. Goldman, oper¬ 
ations manager of Motorola Inc.’s micro¬ 
computer group. 

The shrinking chips-packaged in plastic 
with a dozen or more stubby connecting 
wires and resembling cubist centipedes-are 
the circuits that do the arithmetic and re¬ 
member the information in computers. The 
rising number of transistors and other parts 
on each chip is the primary reason for the 
falling cost of computing, which has dropped 
about 40% a year since the introduction of 
integrated circuits in the eariy 1960s. 

More Bits to a Chip 

If progress continues at its present pace, 
one chip will be able to remember and re¬ 
call about £ quarter-million bits, or basic 
units of computer information, in another 
few years and a million bits a decade later, 
according to projections by several semicon¬ 
ductor manufacturers. The number of logic, 
or decision-making, computer circuits on a 


chip will climb to roughly 25,000 by mid-1980 
and to a quarter-million five years later, the 
companies expect. 

Ignoring development costs, such ultra- 
dense circuits could probably be manufac¬ 
tured for less than $100 apiece, according to 
Gordon Moore, president of Intel Corp., the 
Santa Clara, Calif., semiconductor producer. 

For comparison, today’s large computers 
-the size of several filing cabinets and sell¬ 
ing in the $1 million range-contain about 
100,000 logic*circuits and a main-memory 
capacity of a few million bits. 

More Reliable 

Such cheap calculating power probably 
would make computers and machines that 
contain them much more reliable. “We’ll be 
able with VLSI to afford to duplicate all the 
circuitry so that if part of it goes out, the 
computer will continue operating,” says 
Gary S. Tjaden, director of advanced tech¬ 
nology for Sperry Univac, the computer di¬ 
vision of Sperry Rand Corp. 

In addition, products already given some 
electronic intelligence by LSI chips-ovens, 
clocks, traffic lights, to name a few-wili be¬ 
come smarter with VLSI. Thus, the electric 
office typewriter, which became the elec¬ 
tronic typewriter with the addition of a few 
memory chips, could be transformed by a 
superchip into a complete word-processing 
system allowing a user to edit substantial 
quantities of text before putting the final 
version on paper. 

Superchips may also give rise to the 
truly general purpose computer. “First, 
we’ll see multiple central-processors in a 
single box,” says Thomas Mandey, director 
of technology programs and computer stud¬ 
ies at Quantum Sciences Corp., a New York 
technology-analysis company. “You’ll be 
able to buy an IBM-type processor and, for 
a few hundred dollars more, get a Bur¬ 
roughs-type or Honeywell-type processor 
wired in as optional equipment. Next will 
come the chameleon machine, a computer 
that can imitate any other.” 

Perhaps most important is the VLSI cir- 


Reprinted by permission from The Wall Street Journal , April 27, 1979, Copyright 1979, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 











The Superchip: Computing Power 
To Expand as Circuit Lines Shrink 

o—-————--—- 


Continued From fyrst Page 
cuits’ promise for building computers that 
adapt to people rather than requiring people 
to adapt to them. Encouraging steps in that 
direction are being taken with today’s large 
computers. For example. International Busi¬ 
ness Machines Corp., Sperry Univac, and 
Bell Laboratories, the research arm of 
American Telephone & Telegraph Corp., 
have developed programs that enable com¬ 
puters to recognize continuous human 
speech. 

At several so-called artificial-intelligence 
projects around the country, computers 
have been programmed to follow instruc¬ 
tions and answer questions put to them in 
ordinary sentences, rather than in the jar¬ 
gon called programming languages* that 
must be used in communicating with most 
computers. At some of these same laborato¬ 
ries, research in what is known as pattern 
recognition has provided machines with a 
crude sense of vision, enabling them to dis¬ 
criminate among various shapes and to read 
some free-form handwriting. 

All of these programs have serious limi¬ 
tations at present. It would take the fastest 
machine half an hour or more, for example, 
to identify the words in a minute-long 
speech. Yet they work well enough to have 
commercial possibilities if only they weren’t 
so expensive to operate. Superchips could go 
a long way toward moving such experimen¬ 
tal programs out of the laboratory and onto 
the sales floor, according to Mr. Heilmeier 
of Texas Instruments. 

“We must get ourselves out of the rut 
that says VLSI is simply going to make ex¬ 
isting quantitative computation applications 
smaller, faster and cheaper-a straight-line 
projection of future trends based on the 
past,” he says. “VLSI technology is the key 
to ... machine intelligence that represents 
not a straight-line projection but a quantum 
leap in opportunities,” 

Limits of Light 

While there are physical barriers to mak¬ 
ing circuits necessary for such futuristic 
computing, industry is finding ways to cir¬ 
cumvent them. At some point, for example, 
makers of integrated circuits plan to aban¬ 
don light and the photographic process on 
which they now rely. 

The complex circuits are made like silk- 
screen prints, a layer at a time. Light is 
flashed onto a paper-thin piece of silicon 
through a glass negative, or mask, contain¬ 


ing an image of part of the circuit. That pat¬ 
tern then is etched into the silicon, which is 
exposed to additional patterns and etched 
several more times until the circuit is com¬ 
plete. 

But as the width of the circuit lines ap¬ 
proaches the wavelength of the light used to 
create them, an effect known as diffraction 
causes several lines to appear where only 
one is intended. This effect, coupled with the 
tendency of lenses to absorb most light of 
wavelengths shorter than ultraviolet, limits 
photolithography to producing circuit lines 
wider than about 10,000 angstroms. (There 
are 240,000 angstroms in an inch.) 

Small as that is-roughly the width of a 
yeast cell-it’s too big for VLSI. So, in an¬ 
other few years, circuit-makers will be turn¬ 
ing to beams of electrons to draw the pat¬ 
terns on the chips in something like the way 
pictures are generated on a television 
screen, a dot at a time. 

Keeping Cool 

Some of the companies eyeing electron 
beams also are looking at supercold circuits 
to avoid another barrier in microelectron¬ 
ics: heat. Computer circuits, which are 
switches, generate heat as they open and 
close. The faster they go, the hotter they 
get. Some of the quickest switches give off 
so much heat that to continue working, they 
must be kept far enough apart that the 
speed of the switch is offset by the relatively 
sluggish pace of the electricity reaching it, 
even though electricity zips along at about 
half the speed of light. 

To deal with the restriction, experimen¬ 
ters at IBM are turning from semiconduc¬ 
tors to superconductors, or metals so cold 
they have lost all resistance to electricity. 
One superconducting circuit, the Josephson 
junction-named for British Nobel Prize 
winner Brian Josephson—operates in a bath 
of liquid-helium at more than 400 degrees 
below zero. It opens and closes so quickly 
that the speed of a Josephson switch can 
only be measured by timing chains of a 
dozen and dividing by 12. 

Overall, experts in solid-state electronics 
see no fundamental, physical limits to prog¬ 
ress until circuits are a hundred or more 
times denser than they are today, containing 
lines only 100 angstroms wide, or about the 
diameter of a polio virus. 

Yet superchips are raising concerns of a 
different sort among managers, marketing 
specialists and scientists at semiconductor 


and computer companies. 

The movement, for example, from photo¬ 
lithography to electron-beam processing will 
sharply increase capital-equipment expendi¬ 
tures and probably further concentrate the 
industry around existing large companies, 
observers say. “Five years ago, it cost $5 
million to set up a (semiconductor) wafer 
(manufacturing) line. Today it costs $15 mil¬ 
lion to $20 million, and the figure will be $30 
million in another three years due to chang¬ 
ing technology,” says Pierre Lamond, tech¬ 
nical director of National Semiconductor 
Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif., circuit maker. 

Thus, Mr. Lamond believes, “VLSI will 
turn the cost of capital equipment into a ma¬ 
jor problem for the semiconductor industry. 
The investment required will be astronomi¬ 
cal and to maintain a reasonable return on 
it very, very difficult-perhaps impossible 
for small firms.” 

In addition, some superchips will be so 
expensive and time-consuming to design 
that a mistake could be a iinancial,disaster. 
The threat arises because of the difference 
between memory and logic circuits. The 
memory circuits store the information a 
computer is working on, together with in¬ 
structions about what to do with it and 
when. Logic circuits do the arithmetic and 
make the decisions. 

Complicated Logic 

t Designing a memory circuit is relatively 
easy. Once part of it has been drawn, a dia¬ 
gram containing almost any number of in¬ 
terconnected similar parts can be generated 
in minutes by computer. 

But in a logic circuit, th'e elements are 
connected in a random fashion, vastly com¬ 
plicating the task. Added to that is the need 
to route all the connecting wires, without 
crossovers, in only two dimensions, because 
semiconductor chips are essentially flat. Fi¬ 
nally, if a newly developed, one-chip logic 
circuit doesn’t operate properly at first-as 
it almost certainly won’t-repairs are far 
more than a matter of changing a wire or 
two, as with today’s computers; the entire 
chip must be redesigned. 

As a consequence, the cost of developing 
a logic superchip is likely to be so enormous 
that millions of such chips will have to be 
sold to justify it. Yet semiconductor and 
computing companies say they aren’t really 
sure precisely what markets will be able to 
absorb such high levels of processing power. 

“We’ve never been very good at answer¬ 
ing questions like that,” says James Mc- 
Groddy, director of semiconductor science 
and technology at IBM. As a result, he says, 
“design costs are a serious limit to what we 
can do with VLSI. We and others are work¬ 
ing to reduce those costs, and I believe we 
will invent a* way. But it’s important to focus 
on what’s limiting us at any given time. We 
need to know where the wall is before we 
can knock it down.” 











A Computer Error: A Novice Tries 
To Operate One in His Own Home 


Trying to Use One 

In Your Own Home 

* * # 

Our Man Finds He Can’t Get 
It to Do Tax, Other Jobs; 
But a Physicist Is Happy 


By Mitchell C. Lynch 

Staff Reporter of THE Wall STREET JOURNAL 

BOSTON-1 got a spiffy $599 home com¬ 
puter for Christmas. And it stopped playing 
blackjack with me by New Year’s Day, 
asked me “WHAT?” about 1,400 times by 
George Washington’s Birthday, and mysteri¬ 
ously broke down and resurrected itself by 
Easter. 

I thought it would straighten out the fam¬ 
ily budget; it didn’t. The ads said it would 
help educate the kids; it hasn’t. Certainly it 
would do my tax returns; it can’t. At least it 
would teach me how to prepare those fancy 
programs for computers; it didn’t. Indeed, if 
1 hadn’t been assigned to work with my 
computer, it would be gathering dust in my 
attic. 

Trying out one of the exercises in the in¬ 
struction book, 1 spent more than an hour 
just typing into the computer a copy of the 
program instruction-never mind devising 
my own program-for Robert Frost’s poem, 
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” 
It was gorgeous. There, right on my desktop 
video screen softly flowed “Whose woods 
these are I think I know . . ” with 
electronically created snowflakes lazily 
falling in the background. Then I pressed a 
wrong button, and the poem and the 
snowflakes vanished — permanently. Blip. 

Lack of Training Hurts 

Most of which is my fault. I’ve since 
learned. Experts say people like me have 
neither the technical training nor technical 
inclination to make a home computer-in 
my case a Tandy Corp. Radio Shack TRS-80 
-strut its stuff. “Your problem,” one com¬ 
puter-company executive says, “is that you 
probably don’t even like to program.” True. 

In a way, though, my ignorance is more 
his problem than mine. Many computer 
makers are proclaiming that the long- 
awaited age of the home computer is upon 
us, but my experience suggests something 
else: Most Americans probably aren’t ready 


for it. As one study puts it, most people with 
enough money to make the purchase “do not 
have the time or patience to fool with a 
computer.” Today’s home computers re¬ 
quire a lot of fooling with. 

“The average home consumer today 
doesn’t know* much about the technology of 
a computer, and he really doesn’t want to 
know,” says Phil Roybal, marketing man¬ 
ager of Apple Computer Inc., a fast-grow¬ 
ing, privately owned Cupertino, Calif., com¬ 
pany that also sells' personal computers. 
Among other companies expected to bQ com¬ 
peting soon against Tandy, which markets 
electronic equipment through 7,000 Radio 
Shack stores, are Texas Instruments Inc. 
and Hewlett-Packard Co. 

Creative Strategies International, a mar¬ 
ket-research firm in San Jose, Calif., esti¬ 
mates the current market for household 
computers at 18 million. The other 57 million 
households won’t be able to afford a com¬ 
puter until 1982 or so, when presumably 
prices will fall enough. Creative Strategies 
says. Vantage Research Inc., which special¬ 
izes in analyzing the computer market, esti¬ 
mates that by 1982 personal-computer sales 
will reach $1.1 billion, of which $840 million 
will come from average consumers, $330 
million from so-called professionals-people 
who use their computers for their jobs-and 
$185 million from 1! hobbyists” - people who 
simply like to play Mth computers. 

Selling Well 

Right now, no one knows precisely how 
many home computers have been sold. An¬ 
drew Roman, a consultant at Creative Strat¬ 
egies, estimates that by year-end 600,000 will 
have been installed.in homes and that an¬ 
other 500,000 home-type computers will be in 
offices, laboratories and classrooms. More 
than 40 companies are making these com¬ 
puters, he says, and “they’re selling them 
as fast as they can make them.” 

These figures are all the more remarka¬ 
ble because such gadgets didn’t even exist 
until 1975, when the development of low-cost 
microprocessors made home computers 
practical. Microprocessors are silicon chips, 
usually no more than a quarter-inch square 
but carrying as much calculating power as 
big circuit boards. 

The huge potential markets may have 
tempted a few companies to jump the gun in 
trying to sell home computers, some observ¬ 
ers say. “The companies-and even the 
press-have given this futuristic image of 
what computers can do in the home, when in 


fact they can’t do much,” a computer-indus¬ 
try expert says. Stories abound about how 
the low-priced machines can store informa¬ 
tion and cough it up on demand for, say, 
preparing tax returns, switching lawn sprin¬ 
klers on and off, regulating air temperature 
and quality in homes to save energy, con¬ 
trolling family budgets, helping teach chil¬ 
dren and speeding access to family records 
such as recipes and Christmas-card lists. 

Mine can’t-at least not yet and not for 
$599. Yet my Tandy microcomputer was 
heavily r advertised before Christmas as a 
handy gift that was inexpensive for what it 
can do. (To set the record straight, Tandy 
rented the computer to me for a small fee 
paid by this newspaper. My editors chose 
me because I’m supposed to be “typical”: 
married, two children, a dog, a cat and a 
mortgage.) 

To the uninitiated like me, the Tandy 
would seem to be a dandy-the fastest-sell¬ 
ing, most-heavily-advertised personal com¬ 
puter on the market. It has a video screen, a 
keyboard, a small black box known as the 
power supply, a cassette tape recorder and 
the 232-page book of instructions written, it 
says, “specifically for people who don’t 
know anything about computers.” (Another 
reason f was picked for this assignment.) 
Among the things the computer can do is 
play games with you. 

Like blackjack. Insert a cassette into the 
tape recorder, “load” it into the computer 
and, presto, a blackjack game appears on 
the screen. The family loved it—for one day. 
Then, inexplicably, the machine quit play¬ 
ing. At the local Radio Shack store, the 
clerk, brow furrowed, asked, “Did you put 
the tape near the power-supply box?” Draw¬ 
ings in die instruction manual show the tape 
recorder right next to that box, I replied 
weakly. “If you read the manual,” he ad¬ 
monished, “you’ll see that the power-supply 
box generates a magnetic field, and the 
magnetic field will erase the tape.” Oh. 

So my wife and I came up with a better 
game: inviting friends over to admire the 
computer and then asking them what they 
would $o with it. “Recipes,” one woman 
ventured. “What do I do, take the screen 
into the kitchen?” my wife cracked for the 
umpteenth time. Another guest suggested, 
“How about your checking account, your 
budget, those kinds of things?” Tried it, I 
said, and it didn’t work. (Actually, I bought 
Radio Shack’s $20.90 “personal finance” kit, 
but, so help me, the tapes mysteriously 
erased the very first time.) 

Hence, the somewhat-depressing conclu¬ 
sion: My home simply isn’t complex enough 
to need a computer. I’m not alone. Ameri¬ 
cans have yet to feel what Benjamin M. Ro- 


Reprinted by permission from The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 1979, Copyright 1979, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 










o 


sen, an electronics-securities analyst at 
Morgan Stanley & Co., calls a “perceived 
need” for a home computer. The computer, 
with all its potential problem-solving abili¬ 
ties, is akin to “a solution looking for prob¬ 
lems/’ Mr. Rosen says. 

Programming Problems 

Consider programming. The TRS 80 uses 
what is called the BASIC language, meaning 
“beginners all-purpose symbolic instruction 
code.” Such computer-language is also all- 
fired precise. If you type in a line of instruc¬ 
tions and you misplace just one character, 
the computer screen will print “WHAT?” 

Here are the Jirst four of 54 lines in the 
program for Robert Frost’s poem: 

40 CLS 

50 P.AT7, “ON A SNOWY EVE¬ 
NING ..BY ROBERT FROST”; 

55 F.N=1T02000:N.N 
68 F.Z=1T03000 

Why are the lines numbered 40, 50, 55, 
and then 68? What does “CLS” mean? Why 
the period after “P”? Why are the quote 
marks needed? It’s all in the manual. If any 
of the periods, commas, semicolons or the 
rest are left out, the computer will ask 
“WHAT?” An untrained programmer gets 
snowed under with “WHAT?” 

So, some companies are rushing in with 
all kinds of “software”-tapes or record-like 
disks containing programs. Someday soon, 
computer experts say, I’ll be able to buy 
software to make my TRS-80 hum-but not 
yet. 

Some Happy Buyers 

Some people already can make their 
TRS-80s hum, of course. A. Richard Miller, 
a Natick, Mass., physicist, likes his TRS-80 
so much that he formed Miller Microcompu¬ 
ter Services, a company that sells programs 
and advises clients, mostly small business¬ 
men and professionals, how to tailor their 
computers to their needs. Mr. Miller also 
heads one of about 50 TRS-80 clubs that 
have sprung up across the country and 
whose members, generally hobbyists, hold 
what they call “microsessions” to watch 
demonstrations and trade new ideas. 

However, even Mr. Miller doesn’t see 
much practical use for the computer in the 
home, and he estimates the minimum cost 
of a microcomputer ensemble, including 
programs and other software, at $3,000. 
“There is a tremendous gap between what 
the computer can do and what most people 
can make it do,” Mr. Miller says. In fact, a 
minor part of his business is to buy used 
TRS-80s from the disenchanted. 


Meanwhile, back at my house, my com¬ 
puter simply sputtered out one day. The 
screen wavered and flickered, but wouldn’t 
take a word I printed or answer me. I took 
the whoje ensemble back to the store, and 
there the computer worked fine. “I can’t im¬ 
agine what happened,” the manager said. 
Another Aspect 

All of this - the mysteriously erased 
tapes, the disappearing poem, the collapse 
at home and the. resurrection at the store- 
are part of what computer people call the 
“debugging” process of a Hedging industry. 
But there is more to it than that 

John Roach, executive vice president of 
Tandy’s Radio Shack unit, bluntly says the 
TRS-80 “isn’t being used in the home the 
way most people want to use it; we recog¬ 
nize we weren’t able to provide the soft¬ 
ware.” The real market he adds, comprises 
business and professional buyers willing to 
lay out much more money for computer up¬ 
grading, attachments such as printers, and 
all kinds of software. 

But what about Radio Shack’s pre-Christ¬ 
mas ads, in newspapers and on television, 
showing the happy family under the Christ¬ 
mas tree? “Those were aimed at the educa¬ 
tion market” Mr. Roach says, “for the chil¬ 
dren to use for their studies.” 

The Guilt Pitch 

Says Morgan Stanley’s Mr. Rosen: “It’s 
called the encyclopedia-guilt sales pitch. 
Parents are supposed to feel they should buy 
one for the kids.” 

And indeed, one of the hot markets that 
computer makers are vying for is the school 
systems, where industry executives envision 
microcomputers atop the desks. And al¬ 
though the schools in my town don’t offer 
computer-education courses, at least not for 
nay children’s age groups, many high 
schools across the country do provide such 
instruction. Moreover, industry executives 
are hoping that eventually these young peo¬ 
ple-with some computer training and with¬ 
out the hang-ups that make their parents 
wince at the idea ol running a computer- 
will take easily to the notion of buying and 
operating one. 

And Mr. Rosen warns critics not to 
“pooh-pooh the personal computer.” The 
business and professional market is so big 
that nobody knows how many computers it 
will absorb, he says. Meanwhile, technologi¬ 
cal advances are being made so rapidly that 
Americans indeed will find a need for com¬ 
puters at home, he says, adding, “Sometime 
in the 1980s they will be a consumer prod¬ 
uct.”