Digital Computers in the Biological Laboratory

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Science  09 Oct 1964:
Vol. 146, Issue 3641, pp. 190-198
DOI: 10.1126/science.146.3641.190


The use of digital techniques in the biological laboratory is relatively recent (22). At present, computer equipment is extremely expensive by contrast with conventional electronic equipment. However, the costs are decreasing, and these techniques are rapidly becoming more accessible as well as more powerful. Improvement in the fabrication, size, and compactness of solid-state devices promises rapid progress in computer technology of interest to the biologist. Through the use of integrated circuits it will be possible to make general-purpose computers no larger than a laboratory oscilloscope, as compared with the present desk-size console with auxiliary cabinets. Within a decade the speed of computation will increase by an order of magnitude, and the costs will decrease significantly. Moreover, it seems likely that the parts of a computer and the laboratory "interface" will become available as modular units. An experimenter will then be able to assemble the components necessary for a particular application and change them as required. At present, one has to modify commercial equipment for the nonstandard, biological uses. However, with modular building blocks of relatively small size and more reasonable cost the digital computer may become as familiar a laboratory tool tomorrow as the cathode-ray oscilloscope or the spectrophotometer is today.