In 1941, the Nazi flag flew high on the Eiffel Tower. Britain had been constantly bombarded for over a year by the Luftwaffe. And Alan Turing and his team of codebreakers single-handedly won the entire war for the Allies. In one of the most significant events in the 20th century, Turing developed an electromechanical machine to crack the uncrackable German Enigma code. He named it: the bombe. It saved over 14 million lives and cutting the war short by 2 whole years.
In 1969, the United States and the Soviet Union were in fierce competition to see which nation could build up the strongest weapons, topple the most governments, and land on the moon. On a computer with the power no more than a modern pocket calculator, Margaret Hamilton programmed the NASA Apollo missions with punch cards. And despite a late start, the United States beat the Soviets to the moon.
Today, breaking Enigma is as simple as searching it up on Google, and it no longer costs $2.3 million dollars a machine. Your iPhone costs two thousand times less than the bombe, is millions of times more powerful than the computers used to land men on the moon, and is thousands of times smaller than the rooms these computers were housed in. Computers have been getting faster and faster, smaller and smaller, and cheaper and cheaper, each and every two years, according to Moore’s law.
With these exponential improvements in computing, more and more people can afford more computers. The advancement of computers and technology brings tectonic shifts in society and as a result, also businesses. Farmers can afford to sprinkle their plantation not with inefficient sprinklers, but with efficient sensored Internet-connected computers, allowing them to save millions on water and save the planet.
Retailers can now easily bring their business through the local market to the global market. No more need for physical ledgers. After every consumer purchase online, the information of the transaction is automatically logged and the shop inventory is automatically updated, reducing the retailer’s amount of work. Decentralized ledgers through the Blockchain help musical artists sign their own music. And if news traveled fast back then, it definitely travels faster now.
With machine learning and artificial intelligence on the rise due to increasing computational power, computers have begun to replace humans in the research and development process of making pharmaceutical drugs, potentially saving millions of dollars and lives. Image recognition saves social media companies millions by automating the detection and deletion of child pornography and other distasteful or illegal images/videos.
Intelligent machines push the boundaries of what is possible. Every business runs with computers, but every successful business builds their new foundations with computers. And in 1969, we landed men on the moon with the power of a pocket calculator. Fifty years later, we’re landing men and women on Mars with the power of billions of those calculators.