Science and Industry

ONE word sums up the material prospects of the United States for the decades immediately ahead — “more.” More people, more money in their pockets, more time to spend it, more things to spend it on, more research. The $13 billion the United States spent on research and development in 1961 is double the 1955 figure; by 1970 we will be spending $23 billion.

What will we get for these vast sums? Some things even the experts cannot predict; we can, nevertheless, see the shape of things to come. When they will come is something else again; time after time, industry men say a product is technically feasible but too costly to find a market. Either military or national need or the possibility of profit is usually required to put a laboratory phenomenon on the production line.

Much of our recent technology has resulted directly from two major research programs supported by the federal government. The militaryweapons research launched in World War II and still going on has given enormous impetus to the development of electronics. The atomic bomb and subsequent AEC programs have led to many applications of nuclear physics to technology. Both of these continue, but they are overshadowed by the new program for space.

Television in space

This year, the government will spend about S3 billion on space research. The materials, processes, and systems that this huge sum will buy will profoundly affect our technology. Stronger, heat-resistant materials for a rocket nose will be used in our automobiles. Miniaturization of satellite instruments will change our bedside radios. 1’he performance reliability that brings an astronaut back alive will cut down repair bills on household appliances.

Doctors will adapt telemetering techniques from space probes to obtain reports from within a patient’s body. New power sources used in satellites will be put to work in earth vehicles and generating plants. Even the study of the physiological and psychological stresses of space flights will tell us much about human beings’ reactions under more familiar strains.

Besides its indirect benefits, the space program will provide a direct technological benefit in the relatively near future — the communications satellite. A ball orbiting endlessly above the earth, the communications satellite can be a simple reflector off which radio signals are bounced, greatly extending their range around the world, like ECHO, or it can be a microwave relay station that receives the signal and rebroadcasts it — more complicated and expensive, but also much more useful. Bell Telephone will send a satellite of this nature into orbit this month or next. Called “Telstar,” it will transmit telephone conversations and television. Telstar is a low-altitude satellite, orbiting at six or seven thousand miles. In a complete system, there must be many satellites in order to have one always visible above the horizon at any ground transmittal point.

An alternate system would require only three satellites but would place them 22,300 miles out in space, each covering one third of the earth’s surface. One problem is that the high altitude slows the signal and sets up a bothersome echo; another is the need of a ground-controlled propulsion system to bring the satellite back where it belongs when it wanders out of position.

A complete low-altitude communications satellite system, operated jointly by various companies in the communications industry, is a real possibility. One of its first duties will be transatlantic transmission of television signals, but it will make possible rapid telephone communications between any two points on the globe. RCA has suggested that UN sessions might be broadcast to the whole world on the first satellite television channel.

One important application of high-speed, cheap communications by satellite is likely to be the linking of worldwide computer systems. These would be used to provide scholars with automatic research reports from libraries across the oceans and bring together and analyze all kinds of reports on business and governmental activities.

Electronic brains

Despite its remarkable growth, the electronic computer is still in its infancy. Faster and more compact circuits are constantly being developed and novel applications found. Process control will be taken over by computers in plant after plant. Not only will future operations of an entire automatic factory be computer controlled, but inventories, pricing, daily sales reports, deliveries, and other details will be analyzed and integrated by dataprocessing systems.

One expert cites as an example already under investigation a system in which an insurance company keeps records of every policy in a random-access memory. This would be connected to desk units in every agent’s office over the country. The central computer would supply on demand a complete up-to-the-minute report on each customer’s account.

Decision-making, at least on a simple level, is the most important development in sight for computers. Present-day data-processing systems must be fed an elaborate program of information that in effect tells them what to do in all circumstances. A decision-making computer would go through a process similar to rudimentary thinking, in which it could learn from experience how to make the right decision. With such machines to command, it can be expected that eventually every big company will have a vice president in charge of data processing — second only to the chief executive officer in importance.

Memory machines

Computer memory units will be a vital part of electronic systems used to index and store the ever-growing load of presumably useful information our economy produces. Records of an entire company will be kept in a desk-sized cabinet, with every item available at the touch of a button. In our libraries, electronic machines will, upon electronic request, read every volume, pick out key words, index them in a quick-access memory, and project the desired references on a screen.

Computers are already readingmaterial printed in magnetic ink; before very long they will be able to read ordinary printed matter, and even handwriting. Sensing devices that recognize optical patterns will be followed by others that respond to sound patterns. With one of these tied to an automatic typewriter, an executive could dictate directly to the typewriter. First, however, speech scientists will have to figure out what it is that makes an Edinburgh professor sound different from a Biloxi businessman, even when they both speak the same words. Voice-sensing devices tied to telephones could give a caller the convenience his grandfather had when he simply gave Central the number he wanted.

A challenging aspect of the information field is translation, particularly translation of scientific reports from all over the world. Specialized computers can now be programmed to scan simple texts, translate them into a desired language, and print out the result; but ambiguity, idiom, and structural differences remain problems. Such machines will certainly be developed for the limited vocabularies of scientific disciplines; whether they will ever succeed in handling the nuances of a creative work of fiction or poetry is debatable.

One important task for computers linked in a worldwide system will be long-range weather forecasting, perhaps up to three months ahead. The principle, called numerical weather forecasting, is already being used for predictions a few days in advance; increasing the lead time will require daily collection of weather data from thousands of stations all over the world and their analysis by highspeed computers. Conventional communications circuits could not carry the message load, but the communications satellites will provide the necessary radio channels.

Preventing illness

In a few years we may find whole new families of drugs and serums preventing and controlling infections.

A major goal of scientists is a nonspecific vaccination that will raise the body‘s general level of resistance by developing a broad group of antibodies. Another is the supervaccine, such as that suggested by Dr. Jonas Salk. Dr. Salk believes that it is the protein coating of a virus that penetrates a cell, that this coating, or shell, is not harmful in itself, but that it opens the way for the infectious nucleus of the virus to attack the cell. He proposes to separate the protein shells of many kinds of viruses and make a supervaccine out of them that will produce antibodies against a wide range of diseases.

An exciting possibility has been raised by a British doctor who has discovered a substance in human cells that prevents virus penetration. Named Interferon, the substance has already been isolated in pure form but has not yet been synthesized in the laboratory. If chemists succeed in reproducing this remarkable substance, it might have a major impact on medicine.

If some cancers are a form of virus infection, as is generally believed, it is conceivable that it may become possible to immunize the body against cancer or to overcome a cancer already established, by means of anti-virus preparations.

The same body of research that has produced tranquilizers and psychic energizers may lead to a drug that will improve learning capacity and enable everyone to operate at top mental capacity.

Drugs are, of course, only one branch of the fast-moving chemical industry. Stronger plastics, synthetic rubbers, a host of insecticides, weed killers, soil nutrients, new fabrics — all will reflect the increasing ability of the chemist to manipulate molecules to obtain the exact characteristics needed for a specific application.

The new automobile

If the gas turbine arrives in the next decade, it will be the first really new automotive power plant since the piston engine replaced the Stanley Steamer and the electric runabout. Gas turbines for aircraft have been around, but high cost, expensive materials, and high fuel consumption at low speeds have kept turbines out of automobiles.

Chrysler claims to have licked these problems and produced a gas turbine comparable to the piston engine in cost and fuel consumption, far simpler in construction, and able to burn a variety of cheap fuels. Chrysler is not flatly committed to a mass-produced gas-turbine car, but the new engine will probably be in some production models by 1970. Beyond the sixties, electric cars may reappear in a new shape. The power plant would be a fuel cell or thermionic converter which would generate electricity to drive an electric motor at each wheel.

Research in methods of control forms a big part of automobile development. RCA has designed an automatic road, and General Motors has built an automatically controlled car to run on it. An electrified strip down the center of the road steers the car, while sensing devices on brakes and accelerator keep it clear of cars ahead or behind. A modified system that could be applied to existing cars uses sensing coils embedded in the highway to alert drivers with flashing roadside signals when they close too quickly on the car ahead. RCA estimates that the installation of such a system would cost $10,000 a mile. Some experts, including Ford engineers, are skeptical of automatic controls; they think in terms of a radar device that would bounce electronic signals off obstacles and flash a signal to warn the driver.

The home front

In home building, prefabricated components — roof trusses, wall panels, plumbing assemblies — will be used increasingly. The chemical companies hope that the future will see a precast plastic house. Irradiation may produce plastics strong enough to be bearing members.

The house will have air-cleaning devices and lint-free fabrics. Doormats will automatically clean shoes as one enters the house. Interiors will be lighted by softly glowing electroluminescent walls. A Westinghouse executive foresees “health rooms” with walls that emit ultraviolet rays for year-round suntanning, and a health monitor center to record and store information on weight, temperature, blood pressure, and other family vital statistics. He also suggests that the grass outside the house will stop growing at two or three inches. A lawn-mower manufacturer, however, predicts that the grass will keep growing but will trigger an automatic lawn mower when it reaches a designated height.

Very thin cabinets with very small components will house the television set, and programs will be recorded on magnetic tape for later playback. Recorded television programs will be sold like phonograph records. Home movies taken on magnetic tape will be projected on the television screen. These improvements should be available by 1970, and three-dimensional color television by 2000. RCA envisions a pocket colortelevision set.

As for high fidelity, the perfectionist who disposed of his post-war equipment in favor of stereo will find himself making another switch, this time to “ambio,” according to Standard Research Institute. Ambiophonic equipment uses stereo principles but makes an additional recording that is played back from loudspeakers placed behind the listeners.

More noticeable changes in domestic life might result from combinations of the telephone with television. Shopping, visiting museums and libraries, calling on friends and relatives, enrollment in extension courses — all these and more could be accomplished through the telephone‘s picture screen while the housewife sits at home waiting for the baby to wake up or the repairman to come.

The picture phone is technically feasible, but since picture transmission requires a channel a thousand times as wide as a sound circuit, the cost of circuitry will probably limit picture telephones to business use for some time. Documents could be consulted or designs displayed in a telephoned business conference. The telephone company even suggests that the picture phone could do away with concentration of personnel in central offices. According to Bell Telephone, a sales manager or planning engineer might step from the breakfast table into his office at home and keep in as close visual and auditory touch with his colleagues as if they were all in the same office.

Picture phones could play an important part in retail sales. It is easy to imagine the local haberdasher displaying his shirts and socks in the shop to a customer at the other end of the wire.

Westinghouse has demonstrated a model of a relay box that hooks up to the telephone to turn appliances on and off. The housewife could start the potatoes baking by telephoning her stove from downtown; the winter vacationer could telephone the heat on at home as he enplanes for New York from the Bahamas. But, as with so many devices, cost inhibits production.

RCA and Westinghouse foresee thermoelectric materials incorporated into wall and ceiling panels that will radiate hot or cool air at the flick of a switch — but not till about 2000. American Cyanamid predicts carpets, woven of combined synthetic fibers and ultra-fine steel wires, that will be connected both to solar energy storage cells outdoors and to the house current, to “operate like an electric blanket.”

A home economist, Dr. Hazel K. Stiebeling of the government’s Agricultural Research Service, writing in the Stanford Research Institute journal, suggests that by 1980 automatic warehousing concepts might be applied on a small scale to home food storage, with many foods reduced in volume and storable at room temperature as a result of freeze-drying or irradiation. Microencapsulation, encasing tiny food droplets in gelatin, would also permit storage without cans or jars.

Obviously, there will be no lack of things for industries or individuals to spend their money on. But before we fling ourselves wholeheartedly into the world of more and more, there is a nagging little question that keeps intruding: even in technology, is more necessarily the same as better?