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Role of Physics in the Worldwide ICT Revolution

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Artificial Intelligence, robotics, communication gadgets and Exabytes of information are stored in world’s data centers. We humans have achieved some tremendous amount of success in the field of Information and Communication Technology, or say ICT. This will surely give goosebumps to any curious geek. But this was not a game of one or two decade, this revolution took more than a century and lots of scientific efforts. This was the outcome of our deeper understanding in the laws of nature or more precisely ‘Laws of Physics’. Nature has endless hidden secrets inside it and physics can unlock these secrets. When this great subject poked the ICT sector, the revolution began. So, let’s explore the story of ICT revolution from the physics aspect.

Origins Prior to the 19 th century, ancient people communicated in the most interesting way. Ancient civilizations such as those in China and North America used smoke signals to exchange information between far-flung points. In general smoke signals were used to transmit important news, signal danger, or to gather people to a common area. Interesting, huh? However, such methods were limited by the conditions of weather, but it was quite convenient at that time. There are some interesting anecdote attached to this method, such as:

  • In ancient China, soldiers stationed along the Great Wall would alert each other of impending enemy attack by signaling from tower to tower. In this manner, they were able to transmit a message as far away as 750 kilometers in just a few hours!
  • In the 8 th century BCE, king ‘You of Zhou’ had a habit of fooling his warlords with a false warning. But when an actual rebellion occurred, no one came to the aid of the king. In the same era, Ancient Indians used letters to share the information. There were ‘Raj Doots’, the official messengers of kings, who collected information and also conveyed the king’s messages to other kingdoms. The other methods of communication include drums and conch. They played the drums or conch in coded language to pass on the message. This was the fastest way to signal an impending danger. Sometimes animals and birds were also used for the same purpose.

First breakthrough

The first breakthrough occurred in 1800 when Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the battery, which reliably stored an electrical energy and allowed the current to be used in a controlled environment. In 1820, Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted demonstrated the connection be- tween electricity and magnetism by deflecting a magnetic needle with an electric current. These two discoveries opened the doors of possibilities. Scientists and inventors across the world began experiments with batteries and the principles of electromagnetism to develop some kind of communication system. The revolution was about to start. After one decade of these discoveries, Samuel Morse, Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail developed an electrical telegraph system which revolutionized long-distance communication. This system sent pulses of electric current along wires, which controlled an electromagnet that was located at the receiving end of the telegraph system. To support this discovery, Samuel Morse invented a coded language, named Morse code. It consists of a set of lines and dots, quite similar to zeros and ones. In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message from Washington D.C. to Maryland. By 1866, a telegraph line had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Europe. The second breakthrough was the discovery of telephone. The history of this invention is slightly controversial as there was a patent war among many scientists.

In 1840, American Charles Grafton Page observed that connecting and disconnecting the current caused a ringing sound in the magnet. Using this principle Antonio Meucci invented the first telephone. But Alexander Graham Bell is credited with the development of the first practical telephone in March 1876 as he won the case. The first coherent complete sentence – the famous “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you” was transmitted in Bell’s laboratory.

The Ornament of Physics

One research paper and four equations that shook all physics enthusiast’s mind! Yes, it was “Maxwell’s Equations”. These are the equations of light, the mathematical relationships that showed us how to electrify our world and transmit energy and information through the air. In 1865, James Clerk Maxwell unified the work of Carl Friedrich Gauss, Michael Faraday and André-Marie Ampère in classical electromagnetism and showed that light is an electromagnetic wave that can propagate through free space. This started the whole new era of physics. People across the globe started experiments with electromagnetism and tried to test his theory. Heinrich Hertz got the first success through his famous ‘Hertz Experiment’. Thereafter Guglielmo Marconi got success in transmitting electromagnetic signals for about 2.4 km at the end of 1895, which resulted in the invention of Radio. Further this led to the discovery of ‘Electromagnetic Spectrum’ because Maxwell’s equations predicted an infinite number of frequencies of electromagnetic waves, all traveling at the speed of light. Using this knowledge, other gadgets were also invented. But for me, the most amazing fact is that the visible light is also a part of this spectrum, means what we can see is just a special case of Maxwell’s equation!!!

Information technology

In 20 th century, people started to unify all ideas coming from different aspects. But one area of research, which was on limelight, was semiconductor devices. Using semiconductor devices entire digital electronics was developed, which further enabled the construction of several ICs and micro- processor devices. This ignited the whole new electronic era. The first groundbreaking outcome of this era was invention of Computer. To understand the progress of digital computing, intellectuals have created four sections.

  • The first was the era of vacuum tubes and punch cards, used by ENIAC and Mark 1 computers. Rotating magnetic drums were used for internal storage.
  • In the second generation, heavy vacuum tubes, transistors and punch cards were completely replaced by small transistors, magnetic tapes and magnetic cores. Also during this time, several programming languages were developed, through which a person was able to talk to a computer!
  • The third generation replaced transistors with integrated circuits. Magnetic tape was used throughout all computers, and magnetic core turned into metal oxide semiconductors.
  • The fourth and latest generation brought in CPUs, which contains memory and control circuits all on a single chip. Consequently, we were able to develop the personal computer.

The second and most loved electronic gadget is mobile phone. Mobile phones have revolutionized the ICT sector and are now a part of our culture. Mobile phones are like wizards, it puts everything in the palm of our hand. The working principle of mobile phone goes like this: it first converts human voice into an electrical signal, which is then transmitted via radio waves to the nearest cell tower. Then the receiving phone converts radio waves back into to the audible sound. The world’s first mobile phone call was made on April 3, 1973 by Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola. The phone Cooper used, weighed 1.1 kg and it took around 10 hours to get charged! A big change occurred when Apple founder Steve Jobs launched an iPhone which includes the digital music player, camera (2MP!) and internet-enabled device.

Thereafter many companies came into the market and increased the competition. Consequently, people got more sophisticated and reliable device. 6 AI – Artificial Intelligence As name suggest, AI means intelligence demonstrated by machines. Nowadays tech giant compa- nies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba are using AI technology to reach maximum people with less human help. AI has an enormous amount of applications in the field of robotics, military, medical diagnosis and remote sensing. In AI, machines try to mimic human intelligence by so called artificial neuron, the mathematical model of biological neuron. In 1943, Warren S. McCulloch and Walter Pitts came up with a revolutionary idea. They were the first to propose the mathematical model of a biological neuron – Artificial Neuron (AN). After one decade, this model was successfully tested in ‘Ferranti mark 1’ computer and code written for this purpose was the first AI program. This encouraged many programmers and computer scientists. Around 1980s, Artificial Neuron turned into Artificial Neural Network (ANN). ANN was able to handle much more complex tasks that a single AN cannot handle. Continuous research and development led to improvement in this model. Consequently in 1999, Sony introduced AIBO, the first domestic robot. Currently, we have well developed ANN model, powerful supercomputers and many data centers. With this tremendous computational power, many tech giant companies are trying to mimic human brain, the most complex thing known in universe! (e.g. Google Brain). Google is the world leading company in the field of AI. Google has released TensorFlow library, which is free and open source. Using TensorFlow, people are creating some interesting projects, which are useful in their daily life and business. The future goals of AI are like science fantasy. If researchers are successful, then in future most of our work will be done by the robots only. I think AI will revolutionize healthcare sector the most, as AI is able to classify the symptoms of disease quickly. One more exciting application of AI is in agriculture.

AI technology can monitor the crops and soil. If it finds any unwanted crop or bug, it will spray pesticide. This will save a lot of time and increase productivity. AI technology has endless possibilities. Let’s see what happens in the next few years. 7 Quantized Future Right from its inception, Quantum Mechanics has surprised us with its beauty and its weirdness. It is therefore surpriseing that quantum mechanics has a huge impact on our view of reality. Even the person of century, Albert Einstein, quoted that, “the more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks.” Unlike other theories the development of Quantum theory was the joint effort of many scientists, the top most being Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac. Quantum Mechanics has a large spectrum of applications and particularly in the field of ICT this big task has been settled down for Quantum Mechanics, ‘Quantum computing’. It’s expected that Quantum computers could perform computational tasks exponentially faster than classical computers. Instead of using classical bits (0 and 1), quantum computers use qubits. Qubits are those who uses the quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement to perform operations on data. Quantum programmers are able to manipulate the superposition of qubits in order to solve problems that classical computing cannot do effectively. But as an enthusiast what we can do? Well for that, the tech giant company IBM has started the project named ‘IBM Q Experience’, which is cloud based platform where people can learn, do research, and interact with a real quantum computer housed in an IBM Research lab. Quantum computing can be used in the field of Cryptography, Artificial intelligence and Quantum communication. The next idea may sound like science fantasy, but scientists are actually working on it.

And the name of this revolutionary idea is ‘Quantum teleportation’. This could change the meaning of communication as we will able to teleport the things and in theory humans also! As a first step, scientists have successfully teleported the tiny light particles Photons, from Tenerife to La Palma situated at Canary Islands, which are 143 km apart. Of course, teleporting large objects or people will take time but one day our continuous efforts will seize that also. 8 Bizarre Journey Albert Einstein once said,“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former”. This quote profoundly shows the curious nature of human mind. Due to this curiosity, we humans have covered the bizarre journey of communication technology. This journey has taught us many things. We have seen how our forefathers communicated in an effective way, with limited resources. This journey has also shown us how physics came as a big ocean wave and changed everything. But this journey is endless, as many things are still left to be discovered. The frontier of physics has enabled us to communicate through long distances. Presently, we are in the golden era of communication, where we not only have communication gadgets but also have freedom of speech. So, let’s appreciate that also. Truly, ICT is a nectar for humanity, which is bringing the world close together. I would also like to add that what I and my pen have written is just a concise history of this great subject. There were many unsung heroes, without their con- tribution this revolution was not possible. At last to encourage researchers I would like to quote the words of great personality, Richard Feynman, who once said, ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’.

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