Maths. Machine Thousands of Times Faster Than Human Brain




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The World's News (Sydney), 25 February, 1950




By THOMAS R. HENRY, in Washington

An electronic machine that can calculate and do anything in mathematics thousands of times faster than the human brain, is being constructed at Princeton Institute of advanced studies.

It will be 10 times as fast as the best machines of its kind now in use.. The new machine will be able to add and subtract in a 100,000th of a second and multiply and divide in a 10,000th of a second. The ENIAC, constructed for the Army at the University of Pennsylvania during the war, requires at least 1/10,000th of a second to add or subtract and but 2/1000ths or 3/1000ths of a second to multiply.

It was designed to solve problems in ballistics, which otherwise would require months of work for scores of clerks. While it can be used for other problems, it is not especially adapted for them. The new machine has been designed by Prof.. John Von Neuman, one of -the foremost living mathematicians.

Construction of the new machine is revealed in a report just issued by UNESCO, the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation of the United Nations, in connection with proposals to set up an international computing laboratory. According to the report, the machine will be able to do about anything in mathematics-except pose the problems and supply the data many thousands of times faster than, the human brain.

Input and output of data will be . in the form of magnetised tape, of the kind now coming into use for sound recording. It will have elaborate memory devices for storing figures and automatic checking devices to detect and locate any errors.

A somewhat similar machine also is being constructed by the British Government's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Its "memory" is planned to carry 75,000 figures. Its construction will eliminate all necessity for switching and plugging which are necessary preliminaries to any computation on earlier machines.

This British "automatic computing engine" will be supplied with data on stacks of punched cards. Its speed will be only slightly greater than ENIAC, but there will be a great saving of time in setting it up to solve a problem. It also will be adapted to a far wider range of calculations. Both French and German variations of the "mechanical brains" are coming into the field, the report states.

Several have been set up in Russia, but nothing has been revealed of the principles of their construction. Also, it is revealed, enormous progress has been made in more conventional types of machines of the punched-card variety.

Remark able use was made of a machine of this sort in catching German war criminals. The essential data on the physical characteristics of the, man wanted were entered on punched cards. Similar cards were prepared for the great, nondescript horde of prisoners gathered at the end of the war. The machine simply matched cards, thus putting its finger in a few seconds on many who otherwise might have escaped.

Another remarkable use was in determining the moon's motion from the year 1935 to 3000 AD. This required seven months with the machine adding figures at the rate of 20 a second. Half a million cards, in which 20,000,000 holes had been punched, were used and at least 100,000,000 figures were added.