HistoryofScience.com Blog

Monday, June 9, 2008

Additions to the From Gutenberg to the Internet Timeline, with comments

Encyclopaedia Brittanica, first published in 3 volumes in 1771, announces in its blog [June 2008] that it will include wiki-style collaboration from users in it's online edition. At Britannica, “readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names.” The core encyclopedia itself “will continue to be edited according to the most rigorous standards and will bear the imprimatur ‘Britannica Checked’ to distinguish it from material on the site for which Britannica editors are not responsible.”

[This I find significant as Brittanica, founded in 1771, is probably the oldest encyclopedia still published. It is also notable that Brittanica waited nearly eight years after the foundation of the Wikipedia (founded in January 2001) before including online collaboration.]

The American military supercomputer called the Roadrunner, designed and built by scientists at I.B.M. and Los Alamos National Laboratories from components originally designed for video game machines, has processed more than 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second.
"To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day."

[For further perspective on this development in supercomputing let's think back 63 years to the first electronic computer, the ENIAC, which became operational in 1945. The ENIAC which contained 18,000 vacuum tubes as switches, and which was programmed by plugging in cables, was 10,000 times the speed of a human doing unassisted calculation, but significantly slower than the cheapest electronic calculator available today. Nevertheless in the few years of its operational life, the ENIAC performed more calculations than all of mankind had performed in recorded history up to the time of its invention.]

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