The History of Computers


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The History of Computers


In 1964, no one, with the exception of those with-in the field of study, had ever heard of a computer. Now, only forty years later, almost every home in America is equipped with at least one computer. A computer is defined as a device that accepts information, in the form of digital data, and manipulates it for some result based on a program on how data is to be processed. The first computer was not as fast or efficient as the computers used today, however they are all based on the first model.

“Since the invention of numbers, humanity has tried to make instruments to help in performing calculations” (Moreau 4). Before 3000 B.C. there were tablets used for calculating. The Ancient Chinese used a bead frame for counting. Although rather innovative, neither of these calculating devices was automatic. In the early 19th century, a British astronomer and mathematician had an idea that would change the history of computing forever. His name was Charles Babbage and he described a machine that would have the ability to do a variety of calculations. Because the mechanical-engineering technology of that time period was not reliable or fast enough, he was unable to produce his dream. Babbage’s idea was based on the mathematical insights of George Boole, who first stated the principles of logic used in today’s digital computers (Computer 1). Also, Ada Lovelace, Babbage’s assistant, is known as the first programmer because she introduced program loops and subroutines.

The development of electronics led to the first computers. Once electromechanical technology entered the world, calculators began being produced. The first electronic calculator was built by IBM. This is known as the IBM 603, which was created by Byron E. Phelps. Building upon this model, steps were taken towards the first computer. “The IBM Selective Sequence-Controlled Electronic Calculator (SSEC) was created between the years 1945 and 1948 by a group led by Frank Hamilton, one of the engineers who worked on the building of the Harvard-IBM machine” (Moreau 39). Disregarding calculators, the first real useable computer began with the vacuum tube.

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The next step involved the invention of the transistor. “These transistors became embedded in large numbers in integrated circuits, which made low-costing personal computers available” (Computer 1).

Modern computers are based on the ideas of stored programs implemented by John von Neumann in 1945. These ideas stated that a program is read by a computer, one instruction at a given time (Computer 1). This seems like an archaic principle because now a computer has multiple programs to work on various problems simultaneously.

Modern computers are both electronic and digital. They contain software, the instructions and data, and hardware, the actual machinery including wires, transistors and circuits. All general purpose computers require specific types of hardware. Each computer is equipped with memory, which allows the computer to store data programs. It also has a mass storage unit, which enables a computer to retain large amounts of data permanently. It includes an input device, such as a keyboard or mouse, which allows a person to enter instructions into the computer. A computer also has an output device, such as a display screen or a printer, which shows exactly what the computer has accomplished. Lastly, a general purpose computer requires a central processing unit (CPU), which is the heart of the computer. This component actually executes the instructions (Webopedia.com 2).

Computers are classified by power and size. There are five different classifications of computers. First is the personal computer which is a small, single-user computer based on a microprocessor. A personal computer also has a keyboard, monitor, and a storage device. Secondly, there is a workstation. This is a powerful, single-user computer. It is almost identical to a personal computer, except it has a more powerful microprocessor and a higher-quality monitor. Next is the minicomputer , which is a mulit-user computer that can support ten to one hundred users simultaneously. Next is a mainframe. This is also a multi-user computer that can support one hundred to thousands of users simultaneously. Lastly is the supercomputer. This is a very fast computer that can perform millions of instructions per second (Webopedia. com 2).

The computer has evolved in so many ways since its first introduction in 1945. From one calculator, the computer industry has grown in many ways. It is amazing that in just sixty years, the technology has advanced drastically. Who knows what inventions the next sixty years will bring!


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