Computers In Society


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Computers in Society

My report is on the development of the computer for personal use by home consumers and their impact on society. Computers were being developed as early as the 1800’s and were more of a machine than a computer. The first digital computer that worked electronically was built by Clifford Berry and Dr. John V. Atanasoff in the late 30’s and early 40’s. The first computer as we know it was designed by Howard Aiken and built by IBM in 1944. This first computer was called the Mark I and was eight feet high and over fifty five feet long. It was made of steel and glass and was very unreliable and extremely noisy.

The beginning of the commercial computer age was in June of 1951. This was when the UNIVAC (universal automatic computer) was delivered to a client. The client was the U.S. bureau of the census and was to be used for calculating the previous years census. This was the first time that a computer had been built for a business application rather than for the use of the military or for scientific or engineering use. These first computers came to be known as the first generation computers and used vacuum tubes, which were electronic tubes about the size of light bulbs as the internal computer components. However, due to the fact that literally thousands of these tubes were required, they generated enormous amounts of heat that caused many problems in the temperature regulation and climate control inside these computers. In addition every tube had to be working simultaneously in order for the computer to function and due to the short tube life (one failed every couple of hours) the computer operators didn’t know if the problem was due to a programming error or the machine itself. These first generation computers also used a language called machine language that used numbers instead of today’s language’s that are more like English.

In 1948 three Bell lab engineer’s John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, developed the transistor, which was a small device that transfers electric signals across a resistor. The transistor would replace the vacuum tube that was being used in computers. The engineer’s later received the Nobel Prize for their invention. The transistor revolutionized the computer industry, because they were much smaller than vacuum tubes and had numerous advantages as well. They didn’t require any warm up time, they consumed less energy, were faster, and more reliable.

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The period between 1959 and 1964 became the second generation of the computer age. In addition to the new transistor a new programming language was written to take advantage of the increased power of the computer. During this generation a new language was developed to replace the old machine language. It was an assembly language, which was also known as symbolic language and used abbreviations for instructions rather than numbers, which made programming less cumbersome for the people writing the code. The next development after symbolic languages were high level languages that allowed programmers to give more attention to problem solving and these languages were more English like than the previous languages. Throughout this generation computers were being used primarily by business, university, and government organizations and had not filtered down to the general public yet.

The third generation of the computer age started in 1965 and was characterized by the invention of the integrated circuit (IC). The IC was essentially a compete electronic circuit on a small chip of silicon. These chips may be as small as 1/8 inch square and contain thousands or even millions of electronic components. The Integrated circuit was able to replace and entire circuit board with one chip of silicon that was much smaller that even one transistor. It was due to the size of the IC that they were able to increase the processing power of these computers, because they could now fit more components into a smaller space. These IC chips had been in development up until this point, but began to replace the transistor in 1965 and were seen as a breakthrough because of their desirable characteristics: they were reliable, very compact and very cheap to manufacture.


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