A world at our finger tips – this has been the dream of mankind since the sorcerers of the pharaohs. Mankind has always wanted to have available any kind of good or service at the wave of a wand or the push of a button.

We are now much closer than ever before in history. What the sorcerers used to attempt by calling on the assistance of some divine power was to make the inanimate world respond intelligently to our wishes. Ideally, this inanimate world would even anticipate what we want of it, e.g. To be fed, informed, entertained, or otherwise served.

In the last decade these wishes are becoming a reality, the breakthrough is our ability to miniaturize intelligence -the incredible shrinking computer.

Today we will look at some of the wonders available even now with these versatile computer chips. In particular, we will see how the usefulness of the chip has expanded by being able to feed them information using techniques from satellites to lasers.

Truly we are in a world where all you have to do is “just push the button”.

The importance, as you have seen, is not just that computers are getting smaller, but that the ability to put complex instructions on a wafer about a quarter the size of a postage stamp is certain to open up entire new industries. Essentially we could now make ‘an intelligent anything’.

Already on the store shelves are somewhat primitive devices that will automatically turn on your furnace an hour before you get up in the morning or even turn on the coffee pot.

Many of us have videotape recorders that allow us to record a programme that will be shown several days from now and possibly at an inconvenient time, e.g. a movie starting at 1:00 a.m.

Many of us drive cars already using micro chip technology to control fuel injection systems or even tell us when we need an oil change.

It takes little imagination to see how we could develop a home computer that would monitor the weather and water the lawn through an automatic sprinkling system whenever required. Mind you, it would be preferable if a system were also intelligent enough not to turn the sprinklers on while you were walking across the lawn. This of course is easy to do as I expect that in a few years each individual will wear a small radio frequency transmitter which the computer could detect and realise it should wait until you were safely out of range.

As a matter of fact, such devices are coming into fairly common use. One called Protectalert is a device the size of a brooch or wristwatch which can be worn by a person with a medical problem. All he or she would have to do is touch the device and an automatic signal would be transmitted to the home and through the communications system, e.g. Cable or telephone network, to a medical service. Such a device could easily be set up to monitor where a person is – which may have some advantages and, of course, a few disadvantages!

Generalizing what is already available, one can see the importance of this micro electronic revolution. One could look at any device or object and consider how one might improve its utility by simply making it more intelligent.

For example, one could have an intelligent chair. It would be quite easy for a chair to have enough built in intelligence that it would automatically roll back when you stand up. By detecting just who the user is, it could automatically adjust to your preferred chair height. It could even tip itself into your favourite reclining position.

Is this simply ‘gee wiz’ daydreaming? Not at all -while a thinking chair may be low on our priority lists, it is exactly that kind of thinking that will lead to one of the most exciting industrial development eras we can imagine.

Think of the potential of re-equipping doors that open automatically, but only to certain people.

Consider a flower pot that measures the correct amount of fertilizers after conducting its own test of the soil.

An intelligent curtain could open or close itself depending on the amount of sunlight and of course could adjust the air conditioning to save power depending on the amount of ambient lighting.

The potential is staggering, and the nice thing about this new type of industry is that it is clean, non-polluting, and usually a low user of energy.