Cover: Gauging the Information Revolution

Gauging the Information Revolution

Published 1991

by Bryan Ellickson


Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 2.6 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback57 pages $23.00

Economists have paid very little attention to the revolution in computing which has taken place since World War II. The few studies that have been done suggest a revolution much greater in magnitude than the industrial revolution. However, such claims are based on estimates implying that the cost-effectiveness of computers has been increasing at a much faster rate than earlier revolutions in energy production or transportation. This Note argues that these claims are unwarranted, unwittingly involving comparison of the incommensurate. The author suggests that the right way to assess long-term trends in computer performance is to count "switches," the number of active "on-off" devices contained in the main memory or the central processing unit. Building on an extensive review of computer history as well as an intensive study of the economics of chip production, he makes the case that technological progress in computers reduces simply to a decline in the price of a switch. At the same time, this measure of progress is alien: obtaining more switches at a lower price is highly relevant to the engineer designing a new computer, but an increment in switches does not translate linearly into an increment in consumer satisfaction. Understanding this distinction is key to a proper assessment of the information processing revolution.

This report is part of the RAND note series. The note was a product of RAND from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.