V. Ryan © 2002

The impact of the microprocessor has been as far reaching as any development in the history of technology. Twenty years ago computers were on the fringe of our lives but now they control many aspects. Businesses ranging from manufacturing to financial services (Banks) have had to continually educate, retrain their staff and buy new computer systems just to keep up-to-date with this ever changing technology. Below are some examples of some of the way microprocessors have altered our daily lives.


What is a Microprocessor ?

A ‘microprocessor’ is normally thought of as a single ‘chip’. An example is a CPU (Central Processing Unit) of a computer which controls the main functions of a computer. However, strictly speaking a microprocessor is a collection of chips. A very good example is calculator. Machines, such as washing machines, are controlled by microprocessors. The microprocessor controls the type of wash, the temperature and every other aspect of the washing cycle. Can you name other machines/devices that are controlled by microprocessors ?


What is a Computer ?

People often get confused when talking about microprocessors and computers. Remember, a micro processor is a collection of chips (Integrated Circuits), such as a calculator. A computer is also a collection of chips. Therefore, it is very difficult to talk about microprocessors without also mentioning computers.

When computers were introduced into the business world it was thought that they would bring ‘mass unemployment’, people would be put out of work because a single computer could do the work of many workers. However, computers/microprcessors have made the business world more efficient. An office is more productive when using computers; more letters can be typed up, more information can be kept on customers etc.... Once-upon-a-time all information on customers was stored in filing cabinets which took up lots of space. Now, one computer will store the equivalent of rooms of paper work.




Industrial robots have been used on mass production lines for many years. Many ‘hazardous’ (dangerous) jobs are carried out by these robots. Also, many of the repetitive (boring) jobs are also completed by robots.
As robots have been used more and more the electronics industry has grown and this employs many thousands of people.

In manufacturing, ‘automation’ (use of robots) has made it possible to increase production enormously. Robots, computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM) have been made possible because of the use of microprocessors.


Communications, such as telephone exchanges have been revolutionised by the use of computer systems and microprocessors. The growth of ‘cell phones’ and paging devices are all due to microprocessor technology.
Industry relies very heavily on computer communications. More people than ever work at home and keep in touch with their ‘place of work’ through their own computer. It is quite common for secretarial work to be completed away from the office on a home computer and for it to be ‘E-Mailed’ back to the work place.

Computer Crime

Computers and microprocessors have given rise to new types of crime. ‘Computer hacking’ is a good example. This is when someone with a computer terminal, in their home or at work, illegally breaks through the security on another businesses computer system. Occasionally, examples are seen in the newspapers when a ‘hacker’ is caught trying to break into a Banks computer system. Can you think of any other types of ‘techno-crimes’ ?

Computers and microprocessors enter every aspect of life. At school they are used to help educate pupils. Computers allow people to run a business at home rather than in an office miles away. Microprocessors control our central heating, alarm systems, television and video recorder. In hospitals microprocessors help keep patients alive and help hospitals run efficiently. It is difficult to see how society could exists without microprocessors and computers.

1. Explain how computers are used in schools.
2. How do microprocessors help in the home ?
3. Describe a relatively new ‘techno-crime’ that has developed due to the growth in computers.
4. How do you think microprocessors and computers have affected employment ?
5. How do you think microprocessors and computers will develop in the future ?