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The Electronic Revolution
April 1963 Radio-Electronics

April 1963 Radio-Electronics

April 1963 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Amongst the topics addressed in this "The Electronic Revolution" article in a 1968 issue of Radio−Electronics magazine is "thermoelectron cells that convert solar radiation into electric current at an efficiency of 86%." Having not seen the term before, but guessing it was based on a heating effect rather than a radiation effect, I looked it up and found thermoelectron is "a negative ion, or electron, emitted from a body at high temperature." That is akin to "thermionic" emission, such as what happens when a vacuum tube's heater element spews electrons. Such technology, along with the "Electronic Automated Revolution," "The Instant Newspaper," computers, and lasers are why editor Hugo Gernsback declares, "The Great Accomplishments of Electronics Are Still to Come."

The Electronic Revolution

Hugo Gernsback, Editor-in-Chief

... The Great Accomplishments of Electronics Are Still to Come ...

The modern world has witnessed many technical revolutions in the past, all similar in their basic effects on man - unemployment, often of long duration. Yet the upheaval, after it had run its course, usually proved a blessing in disguise: the world in general improved after every such revolution. Wages rose, often sharply, and the workers found their employment in new spheres generated by the very revolution that started it all.

One of the first revolutions, often called the classic one, began in 1733. It is known as the Textile Revolution. It was brought about by the flying shuttle in England, quickly followed by the spinning jenny and the roller spinning frame. These inventions threw tens of thousands of adult handworkers out of work when incredibly faster machines took over. In some cases, even more children than adults lost their gainful occupation, because child labor was the order of the day.

Quickly, other equally formidable revolutions occurred, dislocating the entire industrial world. Steam power, doing away with backbreaking man-power, had its beginning in 1769, and changed the world fundamentally.

Railways, engineering, electricity, all helped to usher in the Industrial Revolution, which is still continuing today.

In the meanwhile, the world's population did not stand still. It was only a scant 750 million in the 1700's. Today we have more than 3 billion, an expansion fostered to a large extent by the very technical revolutions that broke down the world's frontiers: canals, steamships, railroads, communication, airplanes and others.

And now the Electronic Revolution, the new giant, is advancing with incredible speed into every human endeavor.

It might be said that it started in the early 1920's, with the invention of the dial phone, first successfully demonstrated in Sweden. In 1920, the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. had only manual operators, a total of 228,900 employees. There were 8,000,000 phones at that time. Then it turned to automation - the dial telephone system-eliminating nearly all hand-switchboard operators. Today, AT&T employs 731,569 workers (as of November 1962) and it has more than 67,676,000 phones (as of September 1962)! Such a quantity of phones could not be handled by manual operators - the phenomenal growth of the telephone industry has been made possible by electronics. But automation, instead of decreasing the number of employees, has vastly increased it. More skilled and specialized jobs have been opened up by electronics than were eliminated when electronic circuits and devices replaced operators.*

As the above example clearly indicates, we can also peak of the Electronic Automated Revolution, because very frequently one goes with the other. Indeed, today they are often inseparable. Industrial electronics and automation can not possibly exist without each other.

Let us only think of a single example, the transistor. In the beginning, in the early '50's, they were laboratory-made by hand. The price was above $10 each. Today, when they are made by automated assembly lines, the price for a much better product is as low as 33¢ each, in quantities. It will be even lower in the near future.

The electronic computer invasion into practically every type of business is only now beginning. It is still one of electronics' foremost sophisticated and expensive items of manufacture; computers are not as yet completely made and assembled by automated means. They are also still much too complicated, and many are far too bulky and difficult to program. In the not-too-distant future, simplified, compact computers, many types selling for less than $100, will be in every bookkeeping department and business office. Automation and microminiaturization are the keys to future computers.

The "Instant Newspaper," of which we spoke editorially last month, is on the immediate horizon. It will automate the newspaper into every home by radio facsimile. It will do away with physical distribution of bulky newspapers. This will be a gradual revolution, spread over many years, until homes have acquired what we call their Rafar receivers. It will save hundreds of thousands of tons of expensive newsprint paper, and release many thousands of press operators who will be readily absorbed by the printing industry.

The recent breakthrough of the laser and maser, still in their infancy, will have exploded into a vast industry during the next decade. These versatile newcomers are capable of the most fantastic achievements that even today require courage to believe.

We quote from the staid Journal of the Stanford Research Institute (No.3, Vol. VI, 1962):

"Thus, crystals can not only transmit light in whatever portion of the spectrum we desire; they can also generate light and control it and detect it and mix it. Perhaps in the future they will also remember light, because a crystal can be made with certain impurities that are sensitive to particular wavelengths of light. It is conceivable that it could remember an image observable only by light in a very narrow band of wavelength and a different image detectable by different wavelengths. Thus a crystal could conceivably be made that would have in it a number of different images, each visible only with illumination of the proper color. For example, it might be possible to store all of the pages of a book in a crystal."

The present writer, last December, in his Forecast 1963, predicted the following, all based on laser development:

Anno 2088: The moon is now the world's largest and most efficient power house. This year it surpassed the earth as a generator of electricity. The surface of the moon is now studded with solar plants of titanic dimensions. Many of these installations measure 75 to 100 miles in diameter. The solar plants are low structures, their tops covered unbrokenly with thermoelectron cells that convert solar radiation into electric current at an efficiency of 86%. Because the moon has no clouds and is in a vacuum, the power generation goes on practically uninterruptedly on both sides of the moon. All plants are 100% automated.

The power is sent earthward via highly efficient electron Teledynes (i.e. laser-means) with a loss of less than 1 1/2% of the generated power. - H.G.

* See also January 1960, Radio-Electronics, "Automation in Electronics."



Posted February 24, 2023

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