The Director’s Chair: July 2023

The Director's Chair

HERE IS A bit of a riddle: What do Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, and the Apollo astronauts have in common? They all used slide rules.

Slide rules were invented in the 1600s and were a valued tool for engineers through the mid 1970s, when pocket calculators became affordable and much easier to use. But were pocket calculators, with their instant read-outs instead of the step-by-step calculating of slide-rule users, “cheating”? Some die-hards thought so, but not the people whose job it was to train future engineers. To them, using pocket calculators instead of slide rules was just taking advantage of the latest technology. The calculator cost more than a slide rule, but it more than made up for the extra cost with real-time savings.

Beginning in the late 1980s, the pocket calculator yielded much of the market to the personal computer, and computers pretty much owned the market by the 1990s. As many of us witnessed, personal computers got smaller and smaller faster and faster while becoming more and more cost effective. Today, we can solve most of our computational, business, and networking needs using our smartphones.

So what’s next? You all know it is Artificial Intelligence. AI is evolving with more relevant applications almost daily, and I highly recommend a book on the subject, The Age of AI and Our Human Future, published in 2021; one of the authors is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here’s the executive summary: AI will touch every aspect of our lives. The authors recommend “guardrails” and industry oversight, and they hope that applications of AI will have a codified moral purpose. “Attempts to halt its development,” say the authors, “will merely cede the future to the element of humanity courageous enough to face the implications of its own inventiveness.”

Our next generation of IT professionals should start practical applications of AI as part of their earliest education. It’s not “cheating”—it’s progress.

–Bill Yoder,

Executive Director