Essay Todays Generation Computers On Sale

The Fifth Generation Computer Systems [Present and Beyond] (FGCS) was an initiative by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry, begun in 1982, to create a computer using massively parallel computing/processing. It was to be the result of a massive government/industry research project in Japan during the 1980s. It aimed to create an "epoch-making computer" with supercomputer-like performance and to provide a platform for future developments in artificial intelligence. There was also an unrelated Russian project also named as a fifth-generation computer (see Kronos (computer)).

In his "Trip report" paper,[1] Prof. Ehud Shapiro (which focused the FGCS project on concurrent logic programming as the software foundation for the project) captured the rationale and motivations driving this huge project:

"As part of Japan's effort to become a leader in the computer industry, the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology has launched a revolutionary ten-year plan for the development of large computer systems which will be applicable to knowledge information processing systems. These Fifth Generation computers will be built around the concepts of logic programming. In order to refute the accusation that Japan exploits knowledge from abroad without contributing any of its own, this project will stimulate original research and will make its results available to the international research community."

The term "fifth generation" was intended to convey the system as being a leap beyond existing machines. In the history of computing hardware, computers using vacuum tubes were called the first generation; transistors and diodes, the second; integrated circuits, the third; and those using microprocessors, the fourth. Whereas previous computer generations had focused on increasing the number of logic elements in a single CPU, the fifth generation, it was widely believed at the time, would instead turn to massive numbers of CPUs for added performance.

The project was to create the computer over a ten-year period, after which it was considered ended and investment in a new "sixth generation" project would begin. Opinions about its outcome are divided: either it was a failure, or it was ahead of its time.


In the late 1960s till the early 1970s, there was much talk about "generations" of computer hardware — usually "three generations".

  1. First generation: Thermionic vacuum tubes. Mid-1940s. IBM pioneered the arrangement of vacuum tubes in pluggable modules. The IBM 650 was a first-generation computer.
  2. Second generation: Transistors. 1956. The era of miniaturization begins. Transistors are much smaller than vacuum tubes, draw less power, and generate less heat. Discrete transistors are soldered to circuit boards, with interconnections accomplished by stencil-screened conductive patterns on the reverse side. The IBM 7090 was a second-generation computer.
  3. Third generation: Integrated circuits (silicon chips containing multiple transistors). 1964. A pioneering example is the ACPX module used in the IBM 360/91, which, by stacking layers of silicon over a ceramic substrate, accommodated over 20 transistors per chip; the chips could be packed together onto a circuit board to achieve unheard-of logic densities. The IBM 360/91 was a hybrid second- and third-generation computer.

Omitted from this taxonomy is the "zeroth-generation" computer based on metal gears (such as the IBM 407) or mechanical relays (such as the Mark I), and the post-third-generation computers based on Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits.

There was also a parallel set of generations for software:

  1. First generation: Machine language.
  2. Second generation: Low-level programming languages such as Assembly language.
  3. Third generation: Structured high-level programming languages such as C, COBOL and FORTRAN.
  4. Fourth generation: Domain-specific high-level programming languages such as SQL (for database access) and TeX (for text formatting)

Throughout these multiple generations up to the 1990s, Japan had largely been a follower in the computing arena, building computers following U.S. and British leads. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) decided to attempt to break out of this follow-the-leader pattern, and in the mid-1970s started looking, on a small scale, into the future of computing. They asked the Japan Information Processing Development Center (JIPDEC) to indicate a number of future directions, and in 1979 offered a three-year contract to carry out more in-depth studies along with industry and academia. It was during this period that the term "fifth-generation computer" started to be used.

Prior to the 1970s, MITI guidance had successes such as an improved steel industry, the creation of the oil supertanker, the automotive industry, consumer electronics, and computer memory. MITI decided that the future was going to be information technology. However, the Japanese language, in both written and spoken form, presented and still presents major obstacles for computers. These hurdles could not be taken lightly. So MITI held a conference and invited people around the world to help them.

The primary fields for investigation from this initial project were:

  • Inference computer technologies for knowledge processing
  • Computer technologies to process large-scale data bases and knowledge bases
  • High performance workstations
  • Distributed functional computer technologies
  • Super-computers for scientific calculation

The project imagined an "epoch-making computer" with supercomputer-like performance using massively parallel computing/processing. The aim was to build parallel computers for artificial intelligence applications using concurrent logic programming. The FGCS project and its vast findings contributed greatly to the development of the concurrent logic programming field.

The target defined by the FGCS project was to develop "Knowledge Information Processing systems" (roughly meaning, applied Artificial Intelligence). The chosen tool to implement this goal was logic programming. Logic programming approach as was characterized by Maarten Van Emden – one of its founders – as:[2]

  • The use of logic to express information in a computer.
  • The use of logic to present problems to a computer.
  • The use of logical inference to solve these problems.

More technically, it can be summed up in two equations:

  • Program = Set of axioms.
  • Computation = Proof of a statement from axioms.

The Axioms typically used are universal axioms of a restricted form, called Horn-clauses or definite-clauses. The statement proved in a computation is an existential statement. The proof is constructive, and provides values for the existentially quantified variables: these values constitute the output of the computation.

Logic programming was thought as something that unified various gradients of computer science (software engineering, databases, computer architecture and artificial intelligence). It seemed that logic programming was the "missing link" between knowledge engineering and parallel computer architectures.

In 1982, during a visit to the ICOT, Ehud Shapiro invented Concurrent Prolog, a novel concurrent programming language that integrated logic programming and concurrent programming. Concurrent Prolog is a logic programming language designed for concurrent programming and parallel execution. It is a process oriented language, which embodies dataflow synchronization and guarded-command indeterminacy as its basic control mechanisms. Shapiro described the language in a Report marked as ICOT Technical Report 003,[3] which presented a Concurrent Prolog interpreter written in Prolog. Shapiro's work on Concurrent Prolog inspired a change in the direction of the FGCS from focusing on parallel implementation of Prolog to the focus on concurrent logic programming as the software foundation for the project. It also inspired the concurrent logic programming language Guarded Horn Clauses (GHC) by Ueda, which was the basis of KL1, the programming language that was finally designed and implemented by the FGCS project as its core programming language.

The project imagined a parallel processing computer running on top of massive databases (as opposed to a traditional filesystem) using a logic programming language to define and access the data. They envisioned building a prototype machine with performance between 100M and 1G LIPS, where a LIPS is a Logical Inference Per Second. At the time typical workstation machines were capable of about 100k LIPS. They proposed to build this machine over a ten-year period, 3 years for initial R&D, 4 years for building various subsystems, and a final 3 years to complete a working prototype system. In 1982 the government decided to go ahead with the project, and established the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology (ICOT) through joint investment with various Japanese computer companies.


So ingrained was the belief that parallel computing was the future of all performance gains that the Fifth-Generation project generated a great deal of apprehension in the computer field. After having seen the Japanese take over the consumer electronics field during the 1970s and apparently doing the same in the automotive world during the 1980s, the Japanese in the 1980s had a reputation for invincibility. Soon parallel projects were set up in the US as the Strategic Computing Initiative and the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), in the UK as Alvey, and in Europe as the European Strategic Program on Research in Information Technology (ESPRIT), as well as ECRC (European Computer Research Centre) in Munich, a collaboration between ICL in Britain, Bull in France, and Siemens in Germany.

Five running Parallel Inference Machines (PIM) were eventually produced: PIM/m, PIM/p, PIM/i, PIM/k, PIM/c. The project also produced applications to run on these systems, such as the parallel database management system Kappa, the legal reasoning systemHELIC-II, and the automated theorem proverMGTP, as well as applications to bioinformatics.


The FGCS Project did not meet with commercial success for reasons similar to the Lisp machine companies and Thinking Machines. The highly parallel computer architecture was eventually surpassed in speed by less specialized hardware (for example, Sun workstations and Intelx86 machines). The project did produce a new generation of promising Japanese researchers. But after the FGCS Project, MITI stopped funding large-scale computer research projects, and the research momentum developed by the FGCS Project dissipated. However MITI/ICOT embarked on a Sixth Generation Project in the 1990s.

A primary problem was the choice of concurrent logic programming as the bridge between the parallel computer architecture and the use of logic as a knowledge representation and problem solving language for AI applications. This never happened cleanly; a number of languages were developed, all with their own limitations. In particular, the committed choice feature of concurrent constraint logic programming interfered with the logical semantics of the languages.[4]

Another problem was that existing CPU performance quickly pushed through the "obvious" barriers that experts perceived in the 1980s, and the value of parallel computing quickly dropped to the point where it was for some time used only in niche situations. Although a number of workstations of increasing capacity were designed and built over the project's lifespan, they generally found themselves soon outperformed by "off the shelf" units available commercially.

The project also suffered from being on the wrong side of the technology curve. During its lifespan, GUIs became mainstream in computers; the internet enabled locally stored databases to become distributed; and even simple research projects provided better real-world results in data mining.[citation needed] Moreover, the project found that the promises of logic programming were largely negated by the use of committed choice.[citation needed]

At the end of the ten-year period, the project had spent over ¥50 billion (about US$400 million at 1992 exchange rates) and was terminated without having met its goals. The workstations had no appeal in a market where general purpose systems could now take over their job and even outrun them. This is parallel to the Lisp machine market, where rule-based systems such as CLIPS could run on general-purpose computers, making expensive Lisp machines unnecessary.[5]

Ahead of its time[edit]

In spite of the possibility of considering the project a failure, many of the approaches envisioned in the Fifth-Generation project, such as logic programming distributed over massive knowledge-bases, are now being re-interpreted in current technologies. For example, the Web Ontology Language (OWL) employs several layers of logic-based knowledge representation systems. It appears, however, that these new technologies reinvented rather than leveraged approaches investigated under the Fifth-Generation initiative.

In the early 21st century, many flavors of parallel computing began to proliferate, including multi-core architectures at the low-end and massively parallel processing at the high end. When clock speeds of CPUs began to move into the 3–5 GHz range, CPU power dissipation and other problems became more important. The ability of industry to produce ever-faster single CPU systems (linked to Moore's Law about the periodic doubling of transistor counts) began to be threatened. Ordinary consumer machines and game consoles began to have parallel processors like the Intel Core, AMD K10, and Cell (microprocessor). Graphics card companies like Nvidia and AMD began introducing large parallel systems like CUDA and open(CL). Again, however, it is not clear that these developments were facilitated in any significant way by the Fifth-Generation project.

In summary, a strong case can be made that the Fifth-Generation project was ahead of its time, but it is debatable whether this counters or justifies claims that it was a failure.


External links[edit]

  1. ^Shapiro, Ehud Y. "The fifth generation project—a trip report." Communications of the ACM 26.9 (1983): 637-641.
  2. ^Van Emden, Maarten H., and Robert A. Kowalski. "The semantics of predicate logic as a programming language." Journal of the ACM 23.4 (1976): 733-742.
  3. ^Shapiro E. A subset of Concurrent Prolog and its interpreter, ICOT Technical Report TR-003, Institute for New Generation Computer Technology, Tokyo, 1983. Also in Concurrent Prolog: Collected Papers, E. Shapiro (ed.), MIT Press, 1987, Chapter 2.
  4. ^Carl Hewitt Inconsistency Robustness in Logic Programming ArXiv 2009.
  5. ^Hendler, James (1 March 2008). "Avoiding Another AI Winter"(PDF). IEEE Intelligent Systems. 23 (2): 2–4. doi:10.1109/MIS.2008.20. Archived from the original(PDF) on 12 February 2012. 

Main findings

Many devices have become popular across generations, with a majority now owning cell phones, laptops and desktop computers. Younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility, preferring laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including internet, email, music, games, and video.

Among the findings:

  • Cell phones are by far the most popular device among American adults, especially for adults under the age of 65. Some 85% of adults own cell phones overall. Taking pictures (done by 76% of cell owners) and text messaging (done by 72% of cell owners) are the two non-voice functions that are widely popular among all cell phone users.
  • Desktop computers are most popular with adults ages 35-65, with 69% of Gen X, 65% of Younger Boomers and 64% of Older Boomers owning these devices.
  • Millennials are the only generation that is more likely to own a laptop computer or netbook than a desktop:  70% own a laptop, compared with 57% who own a desktop.
  • While almost half of all adults own an mp3 player like an iPod, this device is by far the most popular with Millennials, the youngest generation—74% of adults ages 18-34 own an mp3 player, compared with 56% of the next oldest generation, Gen X (ages 35-46).
  • Game consoles are significantly more popular with adults ages 18-46, with 63% owning these devices.
  • 5% of all adults own an e-book reader; they are least popular with adults age 75 and older, with 2% owning this device.
  • Tablet computers, such as the iPad, are most popular with American adults age 65 and younger. 4% of all adults own this device.

Additionally, about one in 11 (9%) adults do not own any of the devices we asked about, including 43% of adults age 75 and older.

In terms of generations, Millennials are by far the most likely group not only to own most of the devices we asked about, but also to take advantage of a wider range of functions. For instance, while cell phones have become ubiquitous in American households, most cell phone owners only use two of the main non-voice functions on their phones: taking pictures and text messaging.  Among Millennials, meanwhile, a majority use their phones also for going online, sending email, playing games, listening to music, and recording videos.

However, Gen X is also very similar to Millennials in ownership of certain devices, such as game consoles. Members of Gen X are also more likely than Millennials to own a desktop computer.

e-Book readers and tablet computers so far have not seen significant differences in ownership between generations, although members of the oldest generation (adults age 75 and older) are less likely than younger generations to own these devices.

These findings are based on a survey of 3,001 American adults (ages 18 and older) conducted between August 9 and September 13, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, and the survey included 1,000 cell phone interviews. (More information is availabe in the Methodology section.)

In this chart, the dips in tech ownership registered in the September 2010 survey are mostly a result of the fact that Spanish interviews were added to the survey. Most of the Pew Internet surveys before 2010 were only conducted in English. The Project has added Spanish to this survey and that knocked down the overall tech-ownership numbers in some instances because respondents who wanted to be interviewed in Spanish were somewhat less likely than others to be tech non-users.

Background: Generations defined

This is part of a series of reports by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project exploring how different generations use technology (previous reports: 2010, 2009, 2006). All the generation labels used in these reports, with the exceptions of “Younger Boomers” and “Older Boomers,” are the names conventionalized by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (Perennial, 1992). The Pew Internet Project’s “Generations” reports make the distinction between Younger Boomers and Older Boomers because enough research has been done to suggest that the two decades of Baby Boomers are different enough to merit being divided into distinct generational groups.

The Pew Research Center recently published a series of reports that more closely examined the values, attitudes and experiences of the Millennial generation. These reports are available in full at Many of these reports also compare this younger generation to older cohorts.

The primary adult data in this report come from a Pew Internet Project survey conducted from August 9-September 13, 2010, with some data from a survey conducted April 29 to May 30, 2010. For more information about these surveys, please see the Methodologysection at the end of this report.

Cell phones

Eighty-five percent of Americans age 18 and older own a cell phone, making it by far the most popular device among adults. Mobile phones are especially popular with adults under the age of 66, although the largest drop-off is for adults in the oldest generation (those age 75 and older), of whom 48% own a cell phone.

When asked further about the presence of mobile phones in their households, one-third (33%) of those who do not own a cell phone live in a household with at least one working mobile phone. This means that overall, 90% of all adults—including 62% of those age 75 and older—live in a household with at least one working cell phone.

As the proportion of households with at least one working cell phone rises, many are doing without a landline phone connection at all. In the first half of 2010, roughly one in four (25%) American adults lived in households that were “wireless only” in that they had at least one cell phone, but no landline. This includes more than half (51%) of young adults ages 25-29.

Though cell phones are now ubiquitous in American homes, the level of engagement with the phones does vary widely between generations. As shown in the above table, our May 2010 survey found that while roughly the same proportion of adults in the Millennial generation and Generation X own cell phones, Millennials are significantly more likely to use their phones for a variety of purposes. A majority of Millennials use their phones for taking photos, texting, going online, sending email, playing games, listening to music, and recording videos—making them significantly more likely than any other generation to engage in all of these activities.

In fact, the only two activities that are widely popular for all cell phone owners are taking pictures and sending text messages. Taking pictures is the most popular function on Americans’ phones, with more than half of all cell phone owners under the age of 75 using their phones for this purpose (only 16% of adults age 75 and older take photos with their phones). Text messaging, though also widely adopted, is less popular with adults over age 56.

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Desktop and laptop computers

As noted in previous reports, desktop computer ownership has fallen slightly since 2006, as laptops have gained in popularity. Currently 59% of all adults own a desktop computer, and 52% own a laptop (76% own a computer overall).

Millennials are the only generation that is more likely to own a laptop or netbook (70%) than a desktop computer (57%). While 69% of adults in Generation X own a desktop, a close 61% own a laptop. While roughly six in ten adults ages 47-65 own a desktop, only 49% of Younger Boomers and 43% of Older Boomers own a laptop.

Only 45% of adults over age 65 have a computer of any kind (40% of adults in that age group use the internet), and they are increasingly likely to use a desktop: 28% of adults age 75 and older use a desktop, and 10% use a laptop.

Mp3 players

Almost half—47%—of adults own an iPod or other mp3 player. However, among the devices examined in this report, mp3 players saw the widest range in ownership rates between generations. While 74% of Millennials own an mp3 player, only 56% of members of Gen X do—and adoption rates continue to drop for each of the older generations. Only 3% of adults age 75 and older own this type of device.

Game consoles

Overall, 42% percent of all adults age 18 and older own a game console, and it is especially popular with members of the Millennial Generation and Generation X.  Sixty-three percent of all adults ages 18-46 own a game console like an Xbox or Play Station, as well as 38% of those ages 47-56. Ownership rates continue to drop off, to 19% of Older Boomers (ages 56-64), 8% of the Silent Generation (ages 66-74), and only 3% of the G.I. Generation (age 75 and older).

Additionally, as previously reported in “Americans and Their Gadgets,” parents with children living at home are nearly twice as likely as non-parents to own a game console—64% of parents own one,  vs 33% of non-parents.

e-Book Readers and Tablet Computers

As of September 2010, 5% of American adults own an electronic book reader such as a Kindle or Sony Digital Book, up from 2% of adults the first time the question was asked in April 2009.

Statistically, there is very little variation between the different generations, although the G.I. Generation is slightly less likely than younger generations to own such a device. Though age is not a strong predictor of e-book use, our previous “Gadgets” report noted that ownership is more likely among college graduates and those with relatively high household incomes.

Though there have been several incarnations of tablet-like computers over the years, they had not gained widespread attention until Apple introduced the iPad in early 2010.

As of September 2010, 4% of American adults own a tablet computer such as an iPad. Though education and household income are high predictors for owning a tablet computer, as with e-book readers, they are also more popular with adults age 56 and under (who are significantly more likely to own a tablet computer than adults age 66 and older).

In a previous May 2010 survey, when 3% of all adults said they owned a tablet computer, roughly six in ten of tablet owners said they use their device to access the internet. However, given the small number of tablet owners these findings are not reported in detail here.

Infographic: Summary of gadget ownership

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