Author Topic: if any computer was send back to 1960,how it would effect computer evolution?  (Read 4698 times)

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Offline CatalinaWOW

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If you sent those computers back loaded with all the processing/fabrication information required it might in the long run gotten us to where we are a couple of decades earlier.

The machines themselves would have been proof of concept, and would need to be loaded with things that people of the day would recognize as useful.  NASTRAN, CAD, CAM, ECAD, MATLAB, Spreadsheets, and the like.  No internet browsers, email, Facebook, or games.  Photoshop is an interesting question.  Then with the impetus of the cold war, and if the stored information was detailed enough and covered all of the intervening technology generations, development might have begun with the dream of building a few dozen or maybe even a few thousand of these machines.   Maybe if the relative success of the weather prediction arrays and Sandia nuclear simulation stuff was made clear they would be dreaming of a few tens of thousands.  As the infrastructure built up something like the market that has really driven the development might occur.  Or might not since it might be implemented in an Area 51 type facility.
 

Offline Circlotron

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Whatever computer you do end up sending into the past in an effort to kickstart the future, make sure it uses a linear address space. None of that stupid segment:offset rubbish!
 

Online rsjsouza

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P.S. In the 60s, did they have any concept of a semiconductor triode, ie. a field effect voltage controlled semiconductor junction with a gate? That would have slowed investigation down a bit!

1947 The modern, practical transistor was invented at Bell Labs by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley. Both junction and field-effect, IIRC. 

1958 (Kilby), 1959 (Noyce) The modern, practical integrated circuit was invented by Kilby (TI) and Noyce (Fairchild).

1970 The first practical IC microprocessor (Intel 4004) in 1970.

1974 IMSAI introduced their microcomputer kit using the Intel 8080.
Just an adjustment... :)

IIRC, the earliest patent for a field effect transistor dates back to 1920s - thermoionic valves just had much popularity due to radio.
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Oh, the "whys" of the datasheets... The information is there not to be an axiomatic truth, but instead each speck of data must be slowly inhaled while carefully performing a deep search inside oneself to find the true metaphysical sense...
 

Offline aargee

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I think it would be the whole package, hardware and software.
To make a difference in technology? Hard, the whole context of discovery is sometimes needed. Sure, showing how doping a junction of semiconductor or similar advancements would offer tiny leaps but the jigsaw puzzle is hard without the "how-to-do-it" direction of a human.

But what say you sent back a laptop with Excel or Mathcad on it to Blexley Park at the start of their code breaking activities or Germany in 1939. This could very well win the war, very early in the piece. What sort of timeline would we be travelling on now? How quickly would our technology have been improved? Or set us back because all those technological advancements during WWII were not created and built. Lots of options and what-ifs there...
Not easy, not hard, just need to be incentivised.
 

Offline Brumby

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A lot of our "desires" stem not from want of thinking about them, but for the means to create them.

Advanced microprocessor fabrication (well, what we call "advanced" today) would have been impossible in 1960, so anything sent back would be a scientific curiosity - portrayed rather well by the Terminator 2 movie, I think.  It may have sparked a rush of interest in developing the fabrication processes - but such efforts would have waned because the tech to do so was not within the scope of possibility.

Even if they were to find a way to fabricate the silicon at the sizes required, they would not have gone through the years of process development and refinement that taught the designers what does work and what doesn't - and, more importantly, why.  That knowledge would need to be gained before yields became acceptable.

Yes, it would likely have had an impact on the development timeline - but I don't think it would have been as dramatic as some might want to believe.
 

Offline Towger

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The problem with too big a jump is the technology appears as magic. 
My grandparents had a series of books from the 1940-50s (could be earlier?) covering various industrial processes, in enough detail to get you/civilisation started if the knowledge was lost.  The advantage of technology from that era is it is much easier to reproduce.

Edit: Crossed with Brumby, who put it better.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2018, 05:58:52 am by Towger »
 

Offline Kjelt

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If you don't have mechanical motors, you don't need fuel or batteries.
There are indications that the old egyptians already had primitive electrochemical / galvanic cells, probably used for electroplating or medical purposes.

Quote
If you took a 14-nm CPU back to the 1960s, it would have no effect.  They'd put the die under their strongest optical microscopes and it would still look like a featureless gray blob.  There's no way to rush the evolution that happened over the next 50 years, because it happened in lockstep with market needs that also evolved.
Agreed, the same as that tomorrow an alien race landed on the planet and wanted to share their technology.
If the tech is more than 50 years ahead of our tech OR it is with combination of elements not yet invented here or elements that can not be found on our planet , we have a lot to catch up and learn before we can understand it.

Your example of the 14nm CPU, no way they could make tech in the 60's to replicate those delicate structures.
If you sent the early 70's 4 bit cpu IMO you might have more succes in advancing the technology. Pure speculation ofcourse.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2018, 07:02:02 am by Kjelt »
 

Offline vk6zgo

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Surely they'd either have been too scared of damaging such an unknown technology by trying to do any sort of in depth investigation... or they would have tried to investigate it (try to take an IC apart, maybe even the pcb) and irreversibly broken it. Any technology that in advance of where you are now is probably either going to end up be locked up or broken. Sending back information would be vastly more helpful that an actual device.

P.S. In the 60s, did they have any concept of a semiconductor triode, ie. a field effect voltage controlled semiconductor junction with a gate? That would have slowed investigation down a bit!

FETs were already around in the 1960s, but they were mainly used as small signal RF amplifiers.
Silicon FETs were the most common, but CMOS was being developed rapidly.

Actually, FETs were the first type of semiconductor amplifying devices being investigated in the 1920s/30s, but never got far, due to the difficulty in making one that worked!

It is tempting to think that people in earlier times were ignorant of concepts which are now commonplace,
but research labs were often looking at things which didn't become commercial reality for many years.
 

Offline vk6zgo

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They had an analog navigation/solar moon planets system in 87BC.
What happened with that knowledge? Why did it take another 1600 years before it was reinvented?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

Technology tends to show up when it's needed, and tends to disappear when it's not.  The earliest steam engine we know about was built by Hero of Alexandria, and it's very possible that the idea was already old at the time.  But who needs a steam engine when you have slaves?  As a result, nothing much happened for 2000 years until the economics underlying human labor were rethought and reworked. 

The same is likely true of electrochemical batteries.  If you have slaves, you don't need motors.  If you don't have mechanical motors, you don't need fuel or batteries.

If you took a 14-nm CPU back to the 1960s, it would have no effect.  They'd put the die under their strongest optical microscopes and it would still look like a featureless gray blob.  There's no way to rush the evolution that happened over the next 50 years, because it happened in lockstep with market needs that also evolved.
They already had electron microscopes.
 

Offline vk6zgo

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Send them something useable such as optical fiber 15 years ahead of its time, CW diode lasers, and how to make fast EO modulators.  Give them P and N Gallium Arsenide wafers.  741 op-amps, and leds.  Optical or Quantum computing would be in my cell phone by now, if you did.

Steve
741s date from 1967, semiconductor lasers were well known ( though maybe not CW ones) but not in general use, LEDs were common in mid to late '60s, used as indicator lights on panels.

Gallium Arsenide was certainly known by development labs.
Optical fibre was well known.
In the 1970s, decorative lamps using reject sections of optical fibre were a bit of a fad.
 

Offline T3sl4co1l

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The central conceit of these kinds of thought experiments is this:

A lot of them are just that, conceptual: you could hang out with da Vinci, language barrier aside, and have interesting discussions on a variety of subjects.  He would surely learn a lot, and you would surely stand to learn many things as well.

But as it turns out, semiconductor manufacture actually is hard.  It's multidisciplinary, involving many branches of chemistry and physics (with a bit of psychology thrown in to manage the inevitable meat-based support), on scales and precision unprecedented until then.

To say that semiconductor production could've been advanced, even by say ten years, is probably a very aggressive forecast!

In the late 19th century, say: machining was well matured, with fair precision, say, less than a tenth of a mm being a regular thing.  That's nice, but still a broad side of a barn compared to the micron precision demanded by semiconductors as we know them.  You simply can't have a machinist turning handles on a (large-reduction-ratio pantograph) Etch-a-Sketch and expect it to come out consistently. :P

At the same time (turn of the last century, say), some semiconductor theory and observation was just beginning to develop, but the theoretical tools were unprepared to handle it (physicists quickly learned that condensed-matter physics is hard, too!).  Observations were inconsistent, spooky even.  One would just as well write off another's results as "impossible to reproduce", or worse things.  Likewise, those working with such materials might've been disinclined to publish due to possibly being labeled as a loon?

The materials were partly to blame, but they didn't have a good way of knowing that.  Analytical chemistry couldn't detect parts per billion, except in some rare cases.  Studies would've been easier if the materials were pure and homogeneous from the start, but again, there wasn't much understanding of impurities, and dislocations and other defects.

And it took advances in polymer chemistry and photochemistry to make the step-and-repeat method possible, as we know it today.  At that time, photography was a fairly ordinary thing, but it tended to be grainy, and color photography for example was only in laboratories.  The best plastics at the time were mostly natural: rubber, lacquer, asphalt, and bakelite came a bit later (early 20th century).  It wasn't until much later that organic photochemistry became much better understood, and photographic resists became possible.

These just to name a few!

Incidentally, I don't think they would've had too much trouble cooking up the other process handling equipment, things like electric heaters, plasma generators and vacuum chambers.  Hard vacuum was studied at the time, though I don't know how useful it was in terms of engineering or other practice (ahem, quack medicine using x-rays aside).  Not that such equipment would've been accurate enough, either: you need a feedback control system to operate these things, which would've been quite the challenge before electronic controls came along.  (You can make a hydraulic or mechanical control system, but it's quite noisy (due to turbulence or rotating and sliding parts), and inevitably slow.)

Most of all, with so many highly-refined (for the time) technologies committed to one single goal, what good is it?  Who's buying these chips?  What are they using them for?

The driving force through the 50s and 60s was military technology, willing to pay high prices for top tech.  Consumer applications came as well, but only with the crudest of parts (germanium BJTs), and sparingly at that (unless they were faulty, in which case you might have a "six transistor" (or more) pocket radio ;) ).

You can't change an economy overnight.  It takes decades upon decades of rollout to get everyone invested into new technologies, and driving their further advance.  Nay, it's better to think of semiconductors as one spoke, among many, in the enormous feedback wheel that has pushed technology forward over the last century.

On a related subject: what, then, would be most practical to send back in history?

Probably, vacuum tubes would be achievable within ones' [remaining] lifetime, given suitable patronage.

Going back to da Vinci: suppose you brought with you, in your head, the designs for electrical power generation, transmission and transformation; designs for vacuum pumps and handling equipment; and the chemical and metallurgical knowledge to win the required materials from ores.  While all this would be most peculiar to da Vinci, let's say you win his confidence and you work together to create these fantastical creations.

You could start by grading and stockpiling ores, refining them to the various metals needed (iron and copper being relatively easy; nickel less so, and harder still for tungsten, molybdenum and others).  This already requires a lot of support apparatus, as only a few of these can be processed in the traditional method (as you'd find in a handy copy of, not De Re Metallica, but perhaps the parent texts it would be compiled from).  You would have to do much of the analytical work of, say, Lavoisier, but three centuries earlier.  For example, tungsten and molybdenum might be hydrogen-reduced (since, you can't make a fire hot enough to melt them, and you wouldn't want to anyway, because both readily form carbides).  This requires oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid), say.

In the end, what would you create?  You need something to show your patron.  You might create a telegraph, and show how it can be deployed over great distances to communicate between towns, or how an army might deploy wires as it marches, so it can be commanded instantly.  (Which, I suspect, is a very modern conception of warfare, and without the rapid supply lines we take for granted today, rapid communication probably wouldn't be all that tactically useful after all.)

Tim
« Last Edit: August 15, 2018, 07:34:58 am by T3sl4co1l »
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Offline Kjelt

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In short: you can invent the future but being unable to build it.
Davinci had drawings of flying machines, helicopters but was unable to build it and bring it to practice.
Babbage draw the first mechanical calculator/computer but the precision to create the needed brass gears was not available, only 100 years later it was possible to build it and prooved to be working as invented.
 

Offline Kalvin

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Somewhere in downunder: "Hi guys, look what I've got! Today is teardown-tuesday ..."
 

Online Rerouter

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If you packed it full or technical and scientific books / manuals / papers, Then it would matter, Infact if word got out of it, it could even start serious international tensions depending on who found it first.

Imagine what a countries military command would do to try and secure a device housing detailed technical information on the next 60 years of human advancement.

Equally put in perspective, most research publisher databases, technical book catalogs and wikipedia could be fit into a desktop case PC packed with high density hard drives.

The fun part is they would have no way to get the information out, other than transcribing. Which would be more than 60 years worth of reading.
 

Online Berni

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Yes a lot of modern inventions stand on so much of science from the last 100 years. In these modern times we have large teams working on research projects in big labs filled with all sorts of sophisticated and expensive equipment. We have already invented the easy things, so the things that are left are the difficult ones that we didn't have the knowledge to understand or didn't have the technology to implement.

There are still lots of impressive things you could build before the year 1500 if you knew how. There is no way you could build a jet engine with the metallurgy of the time but you could build a electric generator, motor and even a light bulb. Everyone knew iron back then so magnetic cores are not a problem (Tho the losses would be awful with a solid core). Copper and brass there too so you can make wire and brass bearings. Insulation can be cloth and tar or clay for solid insulators. Glass was known too and you can make a vacuum pump using mercury falling under gravity trough a tube while carbonized string can be used as a filament making lightbulbs possible. Batteries are also not hard to make, they had lead and copper and sulfur that can be easily turned into sulfuric acid. These electrical contraptions would likely be pretty unreliable and very inefficient by todays standards due to missing the processes to make them to very tight tolerances but they would work well enough to be useful.

Its similar with making a flying machine. You can make a perfectly good plane using wood and cloth. They just didn't have a great understanding of aerodynamics, physics behind it and well actual plane design in general (since nobody got one working). Still you could only make a gliding aircraft to glide off a hill or just make a parachute. Powered flight needs a lot of power so pedaling a aircraft is not really very feasible. Yes it can be done and has been done but with a reasonably optimized design, an athlete pedaling and even that for just a little while. So you couldn't make a plane that can take off from a runway until you invent the internal combustion engine.

Making firearms is also perfectly possible 2000 years ago. All you need is a metal pipe and ball along with some gunpowder. They already knew about the materials that make up gunpowder a long time ago so all it was needed was crush and mix it in the right proportion. This obviously gives a massive military advantage.

Back in those days they had access to the materials, just missed the knowledge needed to turn those materials into these inventions.
 

Offline Brumby

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Imagine what a countries military command would do to try and secure a device housing detailed technical information on the next 60 years of human advancement.

That's probably a more likely fate!

With such a resource in the hands of the government - especially the military - it would get squirreled away in such a manner that it would make Area 51 look like a Disney ride.
 

Offline richard.cs

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I'm fairly convinced that piston engine powered flight would be achievable by a time traveller to the Roman era*, assuming he could convince the locals not to kill him and fund his big project somehow (knowledge of future gold mine locations perhaps?). I suspect that it's more practical to do that than to seriously advance semiconductor understanding and technology by taking a modern PC to the 1960s. As other's have mentioned the technology is very difficult to perfect, the microscopic scales make it incredibly difficult to reverse engineer and then there's the problem that you really need a computer to design something with a billion transistors - the circuit doesn't fit very well into a human brain.

* I'm picturing a lightweight timber and silk construction, perhaps something like a Blériot XI, powered by a cast-bronze inline-4. The engine is obviously the bigger challenge, fuelling it with ethanol isn't too hard but lifetime might be fairly short without modern lubricating oils. Bronze is should be fine for block, head and pistons, the most difficult things might be crankshafts and valves in the pre-steel era. Wrought iron is far from ideal here but could probably be made to work. Making small quantities of blister steel could be another option. Magneto ignition only requires wire drawing tech and the ability to create reasonable permanent magnets. In some ways a pulse jet might be easier.
 

Offline In Vacuo Veritas

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I'm fairly convinced that piston engine powered flight would be achievable by a time traveller to the Roman era*, assuming he could convince the locals not to kill him and fund his big project somehow (knowledge of future gold mine locations perhaps?). I suspect that it's more practical to do that than to seriously advance semiconductor understanding and technology by taking a modern PC to the 1960s. As other's have mentioned the technology is very difficult to perfect, the microscopic scales make it incredibly difficult to reverse engineer and then there's the problem that you really need a computer to design something with a billion transistors - the circuit doesn't fit very well into a human brain.

* I'm picturing a lightweight timber and silk construction, perhaps something like a Blériot XI, powered by a cast-bronze inline-4. The engine is obviously the bigger challenge, fuelling it with ethanol isn't too hard but lifetime might be fairly short without modern lubricating oils. Bronze is should be fine for block, head and pistons, the most difficult things might be crankshafts and valves in the pre-steel era. Wrought iron is far from ideal here but could probably be made to work. Making small quantities of blister steel could be another option. Magneto ignition only requires wire drawing tech and the ability to create reasonable permanent magnets. In some ways a pulse jet might be easier.

Unfortunately the Greeks had an abundant supply of slaves, and regarded anyone, even a Greek, that dabbled with the real world to be inferior. That's what slaves are for. No one bothered to count teeth because Aristotle settled it.

https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/rescuing-aristotle/

You see, counting is work.

But:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile

They could have done something from there.

They were also capable of forging quite long pieces of iron.
 

Online Berni

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This roman steam engine Aeolipile is often given a bit too much credit as being the invention of the first steam engine. It was mostly just a cool desk toy that people found interesting to get movement out of a fire. Such a design is not practical for producing enough power to actually drive something. Nobody thought that it was even possible to get the power that a few horses can provide from just steam.

While yes they did have a lot of slaves there are still things that need more power than a few humans can provide continuously. They used windmills and waterwheels for that purpose but a practical steam machine could provide this sort of power anywhere at any anytime, including on ships.

Also sometimes one invention can give rise to making other inventions practical. Like romans did have running water, but they always used gravity to move it around. Pumping and lifting water takes a lot of work so it was not practical to move large amounts of it. But if they had a continuous source of enough power like a steam machine they would have probably also then invented some sort of pump to use it. (Yes i know they had the archimedes screw, but it didn't see heavy use)

Tho an internal combustion engine for an airplane that's quite a bit of a stretch for roman times in my opinion. Sure you could make an internal combustion engine since that's quite similar to a steam engine and you could build one of those. Brass is certainly a good candidate for such parts and they had that. The problem is getting a high enough power to weight ratio out of such an engine. Brass is heavy and not very strong and you need to make your engine to very tight tolerances to get the most power from it and you would need to zone in on the ideal operating conditions while its difficult to make many prototypes because it would be very labor intensive to make the parts for it. So you would proabobly get at most a tractor out of a internal combustion engine, but that's an application where a steam engine can work too, yet the steam engine can run on anything that can burn while internal combustion cant (so its more economical as fuel is cheaper)
« Last Edit: August 16, 2018, 05:49:35 am by Berni »
 

Offline SparkyFX

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It is also a lot more fun and dedication to come up with a concept yourself instead of reading other peoples concepts and trying to copy them.
Support your local planet.
 

Offline @rt

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They wouldn’t know what to do with the hardware other than break it.
It would be more useful in the hands of an educational institution (with software) to use as a supercomputer for research.
 

Offline richard.cs

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Tho an internal combustion engine for an airplane that's quite a bit of a stretch for roman times in my opinion. Sure you could make an internal combustion engine since that's quite similar to a steam engine and you could build one of those. Brass is certainly a good candidate for such parts and they had that. The problem is getting a high enough power to weight ratio out of such an engine. Brass is heavy and not very strong and you need to make your engine to very tight tolerances to get the most power from it and you would need to zone in on the ideal operating conditions while its difficult to make many prototypes because it would be very labor intensive to make the parts for it. So you would proabobly get at most a tractor out of a internal combustion engine, but that's an application where a steam engine can work too, yet the steam engine can run on anything that can burn while internal combustion cant (so its more economical as fuel is cheaper)

I don't disagree that it's difficult, but I think it would be possible in a reasonable timescale, 10-20 years after arrival perhaps, giving you time to build a few machine tools, source materials, etc. Perfectly fitting parts can be produced by filing/scraping rather than machining given cheap labour, they won't be interchangeable with other parts but they will fit together with their matching part. if you look at some of the internal combustion engines from the early 20th century they were pretty primitive by modern standards, the parts manufacture is very doable, it's the metallurgy that is most challenging. On a conventional design it is probably the connecting rods and crankshaft that would benefit most from modern steels, without strength here it is hard to achieve the high rotational speed needed for good power to weight for the overall engine. Likewise aluminium pistons would be great (reduced connecting rod stress for the same RPM) but making aluminium in usable quantities would be hugely difficult, perhaps not possible in a lifetime from that starting point.

As a reference the Wright flyer had a 12 hp, 80 kg engine though they calculated that their limit was around 8 hp, 200 kg. With modern aerodynamic knowledge, especially better wing design flight should be possible with less power. A "modern" low compression, 1970s-designed lawnmower engine is around 10 hp and 20 kg. It doesn't feel unreasonable that you could build one from inferior materials and still keep it under 100 kg.
 

Offline Kjelt

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They wouldn’t know what to do with the hardware other than break it.
Yeah put 5V on the processor,  pooof  :)
« Last Edit: August 16, 2018, 09:39:00 am by Kjelt »
 

Offline borjam

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They would have a very hard time understanding the software alone.

Object orientation didn't exist. Unix was created in 1969 and most computer systems were just running batch jobs at the time. If concurrent programming is unfamiliar to most nowadays, at that time it was arcane knowledge for operating system programmers.

 

Offline Ian.M

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@richard.cs,
OTOH a pulsejet aero-engine should be well within the capabilities of Roman era ironworkers.  The most difficult part to make would probably be the fuel injector, as the fuel pump (windmill driven) could be made of brass.  It probably wouldn't have enough thrust to get off the ground so would need a catapult launch system.
 


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