Eric (datan0de) wrote,

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Robots and Electronic Brains

When I was very young, 7 or 8 if I recall correctly, my friend David found a treasure in our elementary school's library. It was "The How and Why Book of Robots and Electronic Brains", and we were both captivated by it.

Robots and Electronic Brains

David had it pretty much permanently checked out of the library, which actually sparked a fight between us. The librarian intervened and noticed that the check-out card was filled with David's name, and I finally got an opportunity to take the precious glimpse of the World of Tomorrow home!

My memories of it are mostly of the pictures, as I think much of the subject matter- binary arithmetic, how punch cards work, logic gates, etc.- was well beyond me at the time. The pictures stuck with me, however, and in retrospect probably had a significant influence on the path my life took. Robot arms that can bend steel bars, giant computer mainframes, a robot welding underwater, missile tracking radars, and even a robot dog- what's not to love?

I thought of the book not long ago, and on a lark checked Amazon to see if there were any used copies available. Sure enough, there were! I ordered the copy in best condition and anxiously awaited the arrival of this nostalgic artifact of my childhood.

I wasn't disappointed. I opened it up and suddenly I was 8 again. The book is as entertaining today as it was 28 years ago, though for somewhat different reasons. I was delighted to find that I remembered almost every photo and illustration. The text is much more interesting to me now, and really shows the age of the book. It was published in 1963, which means that not only is it old now, it was old when I first discovered it. It's filled with references to paper tape, punch cards, vacuum tubes, and how robots and computers will be helping us to get to the moon.

Surprisingly, much of what it discusses still has some validity. It covers basic circuit logic, and has diagrams of simple circuits that I've drawn and incorporated into little electronics projects myself.

It also misses the mark in a couple of areas, making predictions that advancing computer technology will enable shorter work weeks (BZZZZT! Thank you for playing! Try again!). It also states that computers are incapable of coming up with original concepts and never make the same mistake twice. Again, neither axiom is necessarily correct.

Still, it's a fun little trip into Tomorrowland, and I love finally having my own (surprisingly pristine) copy.
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