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Exhibit gives viewers peek at high-tech future

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Just what are microcomputers, anyway? What are they going to mean to my life? If you're one of the many people who are asking such questions, there is a new science museum exhibit designed just for you.

It is called ''Chips and Changes'' and it premiered recently at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. In the next two years it will travel to eight other cities.

In the best science museum tradition, the 3,000-square-foot exhibit contains a number of gadgets: computers that read letters aloud; sonar glasses that convert ultrasonic echoes into audible sounds, which the blind can use as a replacement for the red-tipped white cane; robot arms that perform complex tasks; and a chess-playing computer that moves pieces around the board using a mechanical arm.

But for those who take the time to read the accompanying explanations, they introduce the important issues surrounding the impact of computers on society: How will they effect the way people work, play, and relate to one another?

''In general, science museums tend to be pro-science and technology. Many have exhibits illustrating how computers work, but few deal with the question of the computer's social impact. That is what we have tried to do here,'' says Wendy Pollack of Association of Science and Technology Centers, which organized the $500,000 effort.

The exhibit's real message, says Pamela Rogow, who codesigned it, is that ''this is a real revolution.''

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