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Picture this: It's Tuesday morning at the Andersons'. Everyone is still asleep. The lights are out, but the Andersons' electronic alarm system, a computerized, high-tech sentry, is standing guard. Although the system was not expensive, it is comprised of a sophisticated array of embedded computer chips that monitor every door and window in the house. (As you may know, embedded chip systems are computer chips that have the actual program "burned into" the hardware.) If the system detects a break-in, the alarm sounds, waits two minutes, and then automatically dials the local police station. The alarm has not gone off in over a year, which was the last time the Andersons had it tested.
At 6 AM the alarm clock goes off. Gary reaches over, turns off the alarm, and then reluctantly throws his feet over the side of the bed. His alarm clock is built into his digital clock radio. It is run by a computer--albeit a simple one--that allows it to keep the current time, and store the wake-up time and the presets for his favorite radio stations.
While Gary heads for the bathroom, Nancy turns on the light next to her bed. The electrical power for the Andersons' neighborhood is generated by a large hydroelectric power plant. The processes inside the power plant and the distribution system outside the power plant are monitored and maintained by mainframe computers and thousands of embedded chip systems. Transformers, using embedded chips to regulate voltage levels, raise the generated power to the high voltages that are used on the transmission lines. The electricity is sent from the plant to substations, where, once again, computer chips embedded in transformers step down thevoltage to the voltage on the subtransmission lines. A final set of transformers steps the voltage down even further, to the level used by consumers to power electronic devices. To protect all the elements of a power system from short circuits and overloads, and for normal switching operations, automated circuit breakers are used. These, too, use computer chips.
As Nancy wakes up the children, Gary gets in the shower. He's never given much thought to how the water is delivered to his home. All he knows is that, as he turns the shower knob, out comes the water. But this, too, is a convenience made possible by the use of a highly computerized system. The Andersons' water comes from a large river that flows through the center of the city. This water must be treated before it can be used. The entire treatment process is monitored by mainframe computers and controlled by embedded chip systems linked to those computers. The water moves through the aeration, filtration, and chemical treatment processes at the command of these automated systems.
From the shower, Gary heads to the kitchen to eat breakfast. The Andersons' food comes from farmers who use computers to control irrigation levels, from truckers who use computers to schedule and route shipments, and from grocers who use computers to monitor inventory levels and perform automatic re-orders. The modern food chain is completely dependent on computers.
Gary heads for the garage. As he turns the ignition of his late-model sedan, more than fifty microprocessors, embedded chip systems, and microcontrollers are activated. These computers regulate and monitor everything from the oil pressure to the temperature.
When Gary arrives at the office, he encounters even more computers: