Reading and Oral Practice
The World of Computers (Part Two)
Computers are part of the age of electronics that has also been responsible for such familiar consumer products as transistor radios. In computers, information is reduced to a simple code; in effect, it is a code which depends on “yes” and “no.” Inside the machine there are thousands of tiny switches which turn off for “no” and on for “yes.” Altogether, a computer system consists of five different sections, or units.
1. What are computers part of?
2. What happens in computers?
3. What is there inside the machine?
4. How many sections does a computer system consist of?
The storage section, as its name indicates, stores the information that the computer will need. It may consist of payroll data, charges against a credit account, deposits and withdrawals in a bank, or thousands of other kinds of information. Much of this material is stored on cards with holes punched in them, or on magnetic tape, or on other devices which are not part of the machine itself. The data are fed to the input unit of the computer, which “reads” the information. A keyboard like the keyboard of a typewriter may be used to feed the data. On other computers, light from a TV camera may be turned into the computer code. On still others, the material on tape may already be reduced to the code.
5. What does the storage section do?
6. What may the information consist of?
7. How is much of this information stored?
8. Where are the data “read”?
9. What are some of the devices which can feed data to the
The control unit of the computer contains instructions for the processes which that particular machine can carry out. The control programs are usually set in advance by the manufacturer of the machine. The processing unit manipulates the information and instructions that have been given to the computer. What the computer is asked to do may be a simple matter of repeating the information on request, or it may be comparing, adding, subtracting, sorting, or differentiating the data which have been fed to it. Some of the processing can be extremely complex, as in the computers that control space flights or Industrial processes.
10. What does the control unit contain?
11. Who sets the control programs?
12. What does the processing unit do?
13. What are some of the things the computer may be asked to do?
14. What are examples of more complex processing?
The output, like the input, may be recorded on a number of different devices. It can be on punched cards or magnetic tape, fur example. It can also be connected to a keyboard that will automatically translate the code back into letters and numbers. It can appear on a tube like the tube in a TV set. Or it can be translated into, sound, like the recording to announce that a telephone number has been changed.
15. How is the output like the input?
16. What are two examples of output devices?
17. To what else can it be connected?
18. Where can it appear?
19. How else can it be translated?
It should be emphasized that a computer is really a system in which the computer proper the control and processing units is only one pan. The storage, input, and output devices are all necessary for providing and recording information. Sometimes the input and output devices can be located at a distance from the computer. In that case, terminals, which are connected to the machine by telephone wires, provide the input and receive the output.
20. What is the computer proper?
21. What else is necessary for the system?
22. Where are these devices sometimes located?
23. What do terminals do?
Basically, the work of computers is done by the switching of electronic impulses. They can perform a million processing operations a second. And even that seems primitive in comparison in experimental models which can perform a billion operations a second! One such machine could probably do just about all the work that is turned out by all the computers in existence today.
24. Basically, how is the work of computers done?
25. How fast can they perform processing operations?
26. In comparison to what do they seem primitive?
11. What could one such machine do?
We have used the word program several times. The program consists of the data that are put into the machine together with the instructions that are necessary to process them to produce a desired result. The word is used both as a noun—a computer program—and as a verb to program a computer. The people who create the programs are programmers. This is a hew occupation which takes great skill and can also pay very well. Programmers must first analyze the problem which the computer is being asked to work on. Then (hey must work out a detailed, step-by-step program that will speak the “language” of the computer. The computer that billed for $00.00 had not been programmed to send no bills for that amount; a step in the program had been left out. There are several different programming languages; some of them are suitable for business purposes, while others are designed to handle mathematical calculations. Most programmers specialize in only one or two of these languages.
28. What does a computer program consist of?
29. How is the word program used?
30. Is the occupation of programmer new or old? How does it pay?
31. What must programmers do first?
32. What must they do then?
33. Is there only one programming language?
34. How many of them do most programmers specialize in?
In addition to programmer, another new occupation is computer operator. Operators control the system by pushing the right button at the right time. They must of course understand the entire system in order to coordinate all the different devices that make it up. Many other people have found jobs operating ‘he machines that punch holes in computer cards. And of course there are technicians, usually employed by the manufacturer, who keep the machines “up”—in working order—rather than “down”—out of order.
35. What other new occupation is there?
36. What do operators do?
37. Why must they understand the entire system?
38. What kind of jobs have many other people found?
39. What do technicians do? Who usually employs them?
What is put into the machines is not the end of their potential. Machines are being developed which can learn and which can correct themselves. Most learning is a process of trial and error. Machines are being designed so that they will learn from their errors by creating new electronic circuits. This is the basis, incidentally, for the fear
expressed by home people that we have indeed created machines that may someday become our masters.
40. What kind of machines is being developed?
41. What is most learning?
42. What will the machines that are being designed do?
43. For what is this the basis?
For now, however, the computers help humanity in an ever-increasing number of ways by performing calculations in a matter of seconds that might take human beings years to do. Without them, human beings would never have traveled to the moon, and no one knows how much farther computers will help us to go.
44. How do computers help humanity?
45. What have they made possible?