Category: Computers

Things of Science

Things of Science LogoI am scanning a lot of Things of Science lately. As a way to keep a handy, sorted reference to the scanned booklets, I created this post. I will update it as I add new units.


Things of Science #222 — Atomic Energy


Things of Science #232 (Feb) — Herb Seeds

Things of Science #234 (Apr)— Sextant

Things of Science #235 (May) — Straight Line

Things of Science #236 (Jun) — Hexaflexagon


Things of Science #306 B — Topology

Things of Science #313 — Measurement


Things of Science #318 — Center of Gravity

Things of Science #321  — Magnetism

Things of Science #322 — Buoyancy

Things of Science #323 — Chromatography

Things of Science #327 — Touch

Things of Science #329 — Computer

Things of Science #330 — Salt

Things of Science #331 — Linkages

Things of Science #332 — Sundial

Things of Science #333 — Sound

Things of Science #334 — Aerodynamics

Things of Science #335 — Corrosion

Things of Science #336 — Heat


Things of Science — Probability

Things of Science #329 — Computer

I really was excited about this Things of Science unit since I have made a career of programming computers. So a Things of Science unit on computers from 1968 should have fascinated me.

Historically, perhaps it is still interesting. But of all the units I have scanned and documented up this point, this is the only unit I cannot recommend anyone try to recreate. The other units, for example the one on hydroponics, would be just as useful and interesting in a high school biology class today as it might have been in 1968.

You can see then how the computer unit might not have aged as well….

Nonetheless, there is a lot here. The booklet clocks in at 32 pages — a monster of sorts for these units. Again, I got the unit off eBay without its “things”. And that is too bad — while the punchcards that appear to have been a part of the unit might have been a kind of novelty, there appears to have been programs (in FORTRAN, I believe) that are referred to in the booklet.

With the punch cards and FORTRAN in this unit, it is rather fascinating to me to realize that my high school’s computer class, when I was a sophomore (1979), taught something along more or less the same lines. I remember being told on the first or second day of Computer Science class that we would need to purchase a brick of punch cards. We would be punching the programs onto the cards and the school would send them off to the district computer somewhere to execute our programs and would return them, a week later or so, along with the printed results. And, yes, we would be learning FORTRAN.

On week two of class, we walked into the classroom Monday morning to see eight Apple ][ computers arranged on as many desks. “Now,” the teacher said, “in fact you will need to purchase instead two of these.” And he held up a pair of 5 1/4″ floppy disks. We would learn BASIC instead.

And, as I understand it, our teacher was taking BASIC at the local junior college just ahead of coming in and teaching us the same. In fact, one of the students in the class was enrolled in the same evening JuCO course.

For your historical consideration, the (large) booklet from this unit:

Things of Science #329 — Computer

The Turing Test

I think the idea of machine intelligence crept into my consciousness when I was very young. I had visited the Museum Of Science And Industry in Chicago and saw on display a computer that you could play Tic-Tac-Toe against. And then a few years later I saw the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” in a movie theater with the intelligent machine, HAL.

Now as an adult, having programmed computers for a living, the Tic-Tac-Toe playing computer is laughably simplistic. You could easily sketch a simple flow-chart that plays the game with a simple arrangement of switches. (In trying to find out about the original museum display I had seen, it appears it may have been created by Bell Labs using essentially telephone switches to encode the tic-tac-toe game logic.)

The intelligent computer referred to as Hal though in the movie “2001” was much more intriguing — it was portrayed as equivalent or better than a human in every way, albeit emotionless and amoral. I suppose though that those two childhood occurrences, the museum computer and the film computer represented on one hand, what was possible at the time and, on the other hand, what might be possible in the future.

Being young though I assumed that the film was a reliable prediction of the future and thought that in fact that all of these things would come to pass by the year 2001.

Historically, researchers have predicted that we would see human-level machine intelligence in about twenty years. This has been fairly consistently the prediction for the past sixty years.

Well, 2016 now and no HAL.

alan-turingThe bigger surprise though may be that anyone was even considering the idea of a thinking machine as early as the 1950’s. This was when Alan Turing, a famous mathematician and early computer scientist, published his paper called “The Imitation Game”.

He asked, how would we know if a machine was intelligent? He suggested in fact that we might not know. Perhaps, he reasoned, the better question then is, under what circumstances might we ascribe human intelligence to a machine?

To answer this question he proposed what has come to be known as The Turing Test. The basic premise is that an observer is allowed to interact with an entity that is either another human or is a machine — the observer does not know which. The observer is allowed to send questions, perhaps typed out, to the entity and by the replies received (also perhaps typed out) they are to determine if they are communicating with a machine or a human. If after a time they cannot tell which, then we must suggest that if it is a machine then it is at the very least imitating human intelligence.

If current predictions are correct, we should see this level of “imitation” within twenty years. 🙂

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