How many inventions in your lifetime can you think of that have changed everything in our society today? Computers have taken over today’s society. From everyday tasks to moving satellites in space, PCs have revolutionized almost everything in our society. Computers weren’t always this complicated though, and were around a long time before anyone even knew what the word “computer” meant.
The Abacus was the first known machine developed to help perform mathematical equations. From what researchers have discovered it was invented around 500 to 600 BC in an area around China or Egypt. This early tool was used to perform addition and subtraction and can still be found used in some of today’s Middle Eastern cultures. In 650 AD the Hindus invented a written symbol for zero. Before this no true written calculations could be made, making this one of the most essential inventions to help computers. In 830 AD the first mathematics textbook was invented by a man named Mohammed Ibn Musa Abu Djefar. The subject of this textbook he wrote was “Al Gebr We’l Mukabala” which in today’s society is known as “Algebra” (History of Computers).
So what does all of this have to do with computers? Well without numbers computers wouldn’t exist or have any reason to exist. The whole point of a computer is to perform mathematical computations. Computers weren’t the first to do these mathematical calculations though. In 1623 AD Wilhelm Schickard invented “The Calculating Clock” which would perform operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In the year 1801 Jacquard Loom devised a punch card system with a power loom and an automatic card reader. Later that century in 1890 Herman Hollerith invented a census calculator that put each person’s information on a punch card and sent it through an electrical/mechanical tabulating machine. This sped up the process from about 7 years to 2 years making this a very efficient method of performing a census, which in turn helped spread it around the world (History of Computers).
Jump to the year 1937 when John V. Atanasoff invented the first electronic computer. This computer and others below, unless otherwise stated, were made using vacuum tubes, “an electronic device in which conduction by electrons takes place through a vacuum within a sealed glass or metal container and which has various uses based on the controlled flow of electrons” (Dictionary.com). From 1941 to 1954 the governments of various countries started developing different computers for different purposes (Sandiego 1).
The year of 1941 was a very important year for computers. It marks the year the first fully functional program controlled computer was invented. This pc was developed in secret by Konrad Zuse and was called the Z3. It was the first to introduce the general architecture for today’s microprocessor. In the picture below the items seem simple, but at the time this was very advanced. This was the start of the true evolution of computers.
After this, from 1943 to 1954, governments and research teams continued to pump out different computers. The last of the vacuum tube computers was created in 1954, and was called the SAGE aircraft warning system. This was the largest vacuum tube computer system every built (Sandiego 1). These were all first generation computers.
Second generation computers utilized transistors instead of vacuum tubes and were invented from around 1954-1959. In 1950 NBS (The National Bureau of Standards) created SEAC (Standards Eastern Automatic Computer). This system used over 10,000 germanium diodes, germanium is a semiconductor that is more expensive than silicon but better suited and more efficient than silicon, and was used to solve over 50 unrelated scientific problems per day. In 1959 GE, General Electric Corporation, made an ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine Accounting) computer system for the Bank of America in California. This system introduced automation in banking, which later helped with the creation of ATMs (Sandiego 2).
The era of third generation computers was from 1959-1971 and they utilized ICs (Integrated Circuits) for these computers. In 1959 Jack Kilby, of Texas instruments, patented the first IC. The first commercial IC product was a hearing aid made and produced in 1963. IBM produced SABRE in 1964 for American Airlines. It’s a tracking system for ticket reservations, which helped speed up the reservation process considerably. DEC was the creator of the first “mini-computer” called the PDP-8. It was one of the first mini-computers made in mass production that pretty much anyone could afford at the time. In 1969 the DOD, Department of Defense, developed the precursor to the internet which was called ARPANet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). This was an experimental WAN (Wide Area Network) that would survive a nuclear war. (Sandiego 3)
Fourth generation PCs were the first to use microprocessors and were in the era of 1971 to 1987. Gilbert Hyatt patented the microprocessor in 1971. Later that year Ted Hoff, of Intel, introduced new microprocessors to use in calculators. IBM arrived with the first 8 in. floppy disk. They also started using these microprocessors in unison with LCD screens in calculators and watches. November of that year Intel introduced the first microcomputer to the public called the MCS-4. In 1972 Nolan Bushnell introduced the “arcade game” to the public with “Computer Space.” Later that year he also created and introduced Atari and the game “Pong” to the public which became the beginnings of today’s “Video Gamer.” The next year in 73′ IBM developed the first hard disk drive utilizing two 30MB platters. Two years later they started selling Altair personal computers. This is when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak became influenced and developed the Apple personal computer. Also within the same year the 5.25 in. floppy disk was introduced (Sandiego 4).
It seems that computers began to progress exponentially. In 1977 Nintendo started creating video games on plastic cartridges with chips inside. Throughout the 80’s typewriters were slowly being replaced with PCs and word processing software was created to help this process along. In 1980 Microsoft signed a contract with IBM to supply their PCs with an OS (Operating System). In 1984 Steve Jobs and his company Apple created the Macintosh personal computer, which is still to this day a popular alternative to PCs (Sandiego 4).
Fifth generations PCs are present day and beyond computers. The WWW (World Wide Web) was created in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee. In 1993 the first web browser called Mosaic was created. Later on two more browsers took over the internet browsing industry. These were called Netscape Navigator (which was free) and Microsoft’s Internet explorer (Sandiego 5). These allow people to communicate their views around the world and express themselves without fear of being outcast. After this, computers still progress with newer standards and updates to standards being released every year. This will continue until performance increases level off and consumers start to leave the computer market.
Throughout history computers have affected everything. From international commerce to international security computers make everything simpler. They make it easy to communicate with others and even help when researching projects for school. Overall the good points for computers and the internet outweigh most downsides. The computer has changed most things in the world today whether bad or good. Computers are not done evolving yet and may never be
“The History of Computers.” Florida State University. October 10, 2004
“Evolution of the Computer.” University of Sandiego. October 10, 2004
“The Z3.” Konrad Zuse. October 10, 2004