The 5,000 Year Journey Of The History and Evolution of Computers
A computer is essentially a physical machine or system which can perform predefined actions via receiving input and then outputting useful information/results.
For example a modern-day computer can receive input (such as words typed into a word processing software such as Microsoft Word), and then it will process that information and output it in a useful format (i.e. as a document which can then easily be edited and added to).
As a result, the first ever computer was the abacus; the physical counting system which allowed people to perform basic arithmetic operations (such as addition and subtraction):
The first abacus was thought to be created in around 2,700-3,000 BC - so around 5,000 years ago! This was the earliest record of a relatively substantial physical system which allowed for something (in this case, arithmetic operations) to be computed - at least, at its time it was a substantial invention! And as a result, the abacus is often regarded as the first ever computer system.
In the subsequent millennia there were numerous other mathematical systems invented and/or produced, such as the Babbage Difference Engine (proposed in 1822) and Ada Lovelace's computer system in 1843.
The first mechanical computers (i.e. the ones which are most similar to modern-day computers) were seen throughout the twentieth century. For example, Konrad Zuse started work on the Z1 Computer in 1935/36, and it was completed in 1938. Reading instructions in from a punched tape, the Z1 was mechanical and could be programmed to some (albeit minor) extent.
Hence because it was mechanical, could be programmed, and receive input (via punched tape) and then give out output (i.e. the solution to the inputted problem) it is classed as the first moden day computer. Unfortunately the Z1 Computer was destroyed just 5 years later during World War II.
The list below covers the history of computers via a timeline from 1938 onwards:
- Time - Event/Creation - Description of event
- 1939 - Hewlett-Packard - HP is founded in Palo Alto, CA, USA (near Standford University). HP are currently one of the largest computer companies in the World.
- 1943 - Colossus - Using vacuum tubes, the programmable Colossus was used during the war to help British codebreakers decrypt German messages.
- 1944 - Harvard Mark I - Also known as the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, the Mark I was shipped to Harvard in 1944 and was used by the US Navy. It was heralded as one of the most reliable and stable computers of its time.
- 1946 - ENIAC 1 Computer - The Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer was - like the Harvard Mark I - another big leap forward in terms of computational power.
- 1950 - Games - Alan Turing writes the first computer program to simulate chess, whilst America started using computers to simulate military operations via 'war games'.
- 1951 - UNIVAC - the Universal Automatic Computer was the first computer designed with commerical intent and was delivered to the US Government to help calculate and tabulate the 1950 census.
- 1950s - Many developments - including Fortran (the first general use programming language) being created by IBM, the T1 line is invented (which later becomes a source for high speed Internet) for large quantities of simultaneous digital voice communication, ERMA (the first banking computer) being created, MICR (used for reading checks automatically) being invented and Silicon Valley slowly being recognised as a technological area. In many ways the 50s was the "software" era; this term (which refers to programmed computer software programs) became an understood term throughout the industry.
- 1961 - Spacewar! - This was the first well known digital computer game, created by Steve Russell and others.
- 1969 - ARPANET - The USA's Department of Defence lay the groundwork for ARPANET, the initial internet.
- 1970s - Many developments - including Intel producing the first RAM chip in 1970 along with the first processor (CPU) in 1971, IBM and Alan Shugart creating the floppy disc (also in 1971), Robert Metcalfe and Xerox creating the first ethernet computing network in 1973, IBM releasing the first consumer computer in 1974 and then - a couple of years later in 1976/77 - Apple releasing the Apple I and TRS-80, along with the Commodore Pet being released.
- 1980s - Even more developments! - As can be seen, the 1970s (above) were somewhat of a turning point for technological advancement. The 80s continued on this with mainly Apple and Microsoft battling it out by starting to release the first graphical user interfaces (i.e. operating systems which can be used in a user-friendly manner). In 1981, Microsoft released MS-DOS (not a graphical user interface ['GUI']).
- But after Apple released Apple Lisa in 1983 (which was a computer with a GUI operating system), Microsoft released Windows (also a user-friendly GUI) in 1985. IBM also released a few noticeable computers throughout the 80s. Thanks to Apple and Microsoft, these user friendly computers started to see a relatively fast rise in personal computer's popularity.
- 1990 - Internet - In 1990, Sir Tim Berners-Lee et al was officially launched and (like personal computers in the 80s) started to see a fairly sharp rise in popularity.
- 1990-Present - Absolutely loads! - The 70s and 80s (along with the internet being launched) laid the groundwork which led to the massive rise in computer popularity. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s (the 'noughties'), computing power kept growing massively and computer prices kept falling. So many different things happened in the computer industry over this 20 year period that this article would turn into an essay if every event was listed here! In short, computing turned from a million dollar industry in the 70s and 80s into a trillion dollar industry in today's day and age!
The rest, as they say, is history!
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