Fig. 1: Image Of First Ever Computer ENIAC(Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator)
Inventors have undoubtedly been heroes for all of us. By burning the midnight oil, they have gifted humankind with revolutionizing technology. Whether it is a mobile phone or a radio, they have never been miser in endowing the society with life transforming inventions. One such empowering invention has been of Computer. Not one but there are many geniuses behind the development and growth of this phenomenal technology.
Wooden abacus laid basis for the computers long time back. By walking through annals of computer history, one can have a peek into rich legacy of 21st century’s technology. Back from 3000 B.C. abacus, which was a simple calculating tool introduced in China, is known to be the foundation of today’s computers. But in essence this tool cannot be compared with the super computers of today. After abacus, came slide rule in year 1622 A.D introduced by William Oughtred. This was considered to be though provoking and conceptual element to the computer development.
Growth of computers had to go through various phases, starting with difference engine by Charles Babbage in year 1822. Difference and analytical engines were too mechanical and their weight was in tons. The first generation that lasted from 1940 to 1956 gave computers in the form of vacuum tubes. And second generation computers that survived from 1956 to 1963 were based on the transistors. Then came its third generation, 1964 to 1971, which witnessed integrated circuits. And the coming generations were the ones where artificial intelligence took the lead. The interesting part is who is known as father of computers- Charles Baggage did not know that he would make an important place in history with his invention.
In the 19th century, calculation of mathematical table was done by computers. It was not the technology that is used today but the people, who took computing task, were known as computers. But because it was done by human beings, there were many errors too. With a computer science and a mathematics background, Charles thought of building calculating machine. He began working on a machine that could analyze the input while giving appropriate outputs. Because it was designed for eliminating differential errors with mathematical table, it was known as difference engine. Charles Baggage could not complete the design due to complexity and size of its design. But his urge to find a solution to this problem led to introduction of difference engine 2 which was better version of the initial design.
Unfortunately he did not succeed again with its implementation and came to a conclusion that his designs needed development. He then worked on his designs and came up with engines which had improved analysis power. Continuous work on his designs gave complex and efficient engine known as analytical engine. This engine was introduced in 1989 and was much more accurate as compared to electronic calculator available today.
Another hero from the tale of computer invention is Alan Turing. Though, Turing did not design any computer but he was counted among influential personalities in computer science field. He gave the platform for formulation of basic algorithms and Turing machine with capability of measuring intelligence of a machine. His work has been ground-breaking in artificial intelligence. CAPTCHA code tests on computers have been possible due to Turing.
Another remarkable contributor in the field of computers is Konrad Zuse. This German Engineer introduced the earliest electrical binary computer in 1936. He is associated with the Z series of computers. He was the one to invent computer language, Plankalkul which could be employed for non numerical and numerical problems. In addition of all his technical work, Zuse formed computer startup company in year 1946. The company produced the successor of first three series by Zuse, Z4 which also became earliest commercial computer.
While flipping through the pages of history of computer invention, one would find names of John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry. During the war time in year 1942, first electronic digital computer known as Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was invented by the duo. This was another teacher pack that came up with this significant invention. ABC symbolized various innovations in the field of computing including parallel processing, arithmetic system, separation of computing functioning and memory and the regenerative memory.
Role of U.S. Army in the field of computer invention is also noteworthy. Ballistic Research Lab of U.S. Army came up ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer in year 1946. It soon was known to be earliest in general purpose electronic computers. It required rewiring that led to making the architecture inflexible. Soon ENIAC developers recognized its architectural flaws and improved it. The improved version was called stored program architecture or Von Neumann Architecture after John Von Neumann’s name, man to describe its architecture. The following projects used the same architecture.
National Bureau Standards, U.S. came up with the SEAC, Standards Electronic Automatic Computer in year 1950. And then 1953, IBM announced IBM 702, Data Processing Machine which was basically developed for the business use and addressing engineering and scientific applications. Until 1950, all the computers used were based on vacuum tubes. And in 1960s, computers based on transistors replaced the earlier ones. These cost effective and small computers were energy efficient too. But the heat emission from computer made them prone to early damaged. The third generation of computers saw integrated circuits. And since then there have been endless improvements in the field. Entry of legendary Bill Gates and Steve Jobs has changed Computer history completely.
Computer invention saga has been a magnificent example of inspiring developments through research, re-inventions and innovations.
Filed Under: Invention Stories