* By Jesse Gabriel*

Introduction

Quantum computing is an emerging technology that has the potential cause a shift in paradigm of the digital world. While it is still in the research and development stage in developed countries like the US and Australia, Papua New Guinea is embracing digital transformation, making it a fitting topic to discuss and look towards. Before talking about quantum computing, in this article, we review the current digital platform, classical computing. From the earliest machines that filled entire rooms to the modern smartphones that fit in the palm of our hands, classical computing has revolutionized the way we live, work, and communicate. At its heart, classical computing relies on binary digits, or bits, to process and store information. Let's glimpse at the history and fundamentals of classical computing including examples of its applications and limitations.

A Brief History of Classical Computing

The history of classical computing dates back to the mid-19th century, when mathematician George Boole introduced the concept of Boolean algebra. Boole's work laid the foundation for logic gates, which are the building blocks of modern computing. In 1937, mathematician Claude Shannon demonstrated how Boolean algebra could be used to simplify the design of electronic circuits, paving the way for the development of the first electronic computers.

The first electronic computer, known as the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), was built in 1945 at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a massive machine that filled an entire room, weighed 30 tons, and consumed as much electricity as a small town. Despite its size and complexity, the ENIAC was capable of performing calculations much faster than any human, making it a valuable tool for scientific research and military operations.

Over the next few decades, computing technology continued to evolve rapidly. In 1951, the first commercially available computer, the UNIVAC I, was sold to the US Census Bureau. By the 1960s, computers had become smaller and more affordable, leading to their widespread adoption in businesses and research institutions.

The introduction of microprocessors in the 1970s paved the way for the development of personal computers, which became increasingly popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today, classical computing technology is ubiquitous, powering everything from smartphones and laptops to cars, home appliances, even rockets and satellites and enabling space exploration.

The Fundamentals of Classical Computing

At its core, classical computing relies on the manipulation of binary digits, or bits, which can be either 0 or 1. Bits are used to represent information in a computer, with each bit representing a single piece of data. For example, a single bit can represent a yes/no answer to a question, or a true/false statement.

The manipulation of bits is performed by logic gates, which are electronic circuits that can perform logical operations on input bits to produce an output bit. There are several types of logic gates, including AND, OR, NOT, and XOR gates. These gates can be combined to create more complex circuits, which can perform more sophisticated operations.

In addition to logic gates, classical computing relies on the concept of the algorithm, which is a set of instructions for performing a specific task. Algorithms can be simple, such as adding two numbers together, or complex, such as sorting a large dataset. The ability to create and execute algorithms is what sets computers apart from other machines.

Some Applications of Classical Computing

As we know, classical computing has a wide range of applications, from scientific research and engineering to business and entertainment. Some key examples of how classical computing is used today are as follows:

Scientific Research:

Classical computing is used extensively in scientific research, where it is used to model complex phenomena and simulate experiments. For example, scientists use classical computers to model the behavior of particles in a nuclear reactor or to simulate the effects of climate change.

Engineering:

Classical computing is used in engineering to design and test new products and systems. Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create 3D models of products and systems, which can be tested and optimized using simulations (FEM, CFD, etc.). This allows engineers to test and iterate designs more quickly and efficiently than traditional methods.

Business:

Classical computing is also used extensively in business, where it is used for tasks such as data analysis, financial modeling, and supply chain optimization. For example, businesses use classical computers to analyze customer data and predict trends, to perform financial analysis and forecasting, and to optimize production and distribution processes.

Entertainment:

Classical computing is used extensively in the entertainment industry, where it is used to create special effects, render 3D animations, and develop video games. For example, video game developers use classical computers to create and test game engines, which are the underlying systems that power video games.

Some Limitations of Classical Computing

Despite its many applications, classical computing does have its limitations. One of the main limitations of classical computing is its scalability. As the number of bits in a computing system increases, the complexity of the system grows exponentially, making it increasingly difficult to design and maintain.

Another limitation of classical computing is its inability to solve certain types of problems efficiently. For example, classical computers are not well-suited for problems that involve searching large datasets or performing complex optimization tasks. These types of problems are better suited for quantum computing (next article), which is a type of computing that relies on the principles of quantum mechanics.

Finally, classical computing is limited by its energy consumption. As classical computing systems become more complex and powerful, they require more energy to operate. This has led to concerns about the environmental impact of computing, as well as the cost of energy required to power large-scale computing systems.

Forward-looking Conclusion

Classical computing is the foundation of modern technology, powering everything from smartphones and laptops to scientific research and business operations. While classical computing has its limitations, it has revolutionized the way we live, work, and communicate, and will continue to be a vital component of technological advancement for years to come. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see new innovations and breakthroughs in computing that will shape the future of our world and we have just started witnessing these innovations in the recent development of AI tools such as the GPTs by OpenAI and others. While some Papua New Guineans have adopted or used these new technologies with ease, more still need a better grip of digital technologies and this would require the government, relevant institutions/organization and individuals to direct some focus towards the fundamentals (e.g. in math, computer engineering, STEM education, and how all the different fields relate to one another) up to the latest developments (e.g. quantum computing). In the next article, we will discuss quantum computing and some of its potential implications.

History of Computing - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_computing

Navaneeth, A.V., Dileep, M.R. (2021). A Study and Analysis of Applications of Classical Computing and Quantum Computing: A Survey. In: Fong, S., Dey, N., Joshi, A. (eds) ICT Analysis and Applications. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 154. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-8354-4_25

Sangalli, A. (1999). CHAPTER THREE. The Limits of Classical Computing. In The Importance of Being Fuzzy: And Other Insights from the Border between Math and Computers (pp. 49-75). Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780691187358-006

What is Classical Computing - TechTarget https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/classical-computing.

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