History of Computers

There have been few inventions that has grown an attached itself to as many
lives as the invention of the computer. Computers can be found in almost every
aspect of our lives, if not direct, indirectly. When I think of the different
ways I come in contact with computers in one day its astounding. When I wake in
the morning its usually by the assistance of an alarm clock that I program to
alarm at a specific time. When I use my Metro Card to gain entrance to the
train, a computer reads the funds available and allows the transaction. These
are just a few ways that I personally come in contact with computers, there are
many more. Computers are revolutionary by nature since their advancements have
led to many scientific breakthroughs and are currently assisting in the
discoveries of the future. The electronic computer has been around for over half
a century but only in the last 40 years have we seen its influences and
achievements

The very earliest existence of the modern day computer\'s ancestor is the
abacus. These date back to almost 2000 years ago. It is simply a wooden rack
holding parallel wires on which beads are strung. When these beads are moved
along the wire according to "programming" rules that the user must
memorize, all ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed (Soma, 14). The
next innovation in computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the
first "digital calculating machine". It could only add numbers and
they had to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascal\'s father
who was a tax collector (Soma, 32). As you can see computers were used when
complex calculations were involved and speed was essential. Computer technology
not only has solved problems but also has created some, including a certain
amount of culture shock as individuals attempt to deal with the new technology.
A major role of computer science has been to alleviate such problems, mainly by
making computer systems cheaper, faster, more reliable, easier to use. Computers
are forever present in the workplace.

The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for computing
capability, especially for the military. New weapons systems were produced which
needed trajectory tables and other essential data. In 1942, John P. Eckert, John
W. Mauchley, and their associates at the University of Pennsylvania decided to
build a high-speed electronic computer to do the job. This machine became known
as ENIAC, for "Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator". It
could multiply two numbers at the rate of 300 products per second, by finding
the value of each product from a multiplication table stored in its memory.
ENIAC was thus about 1,000 times faster than the previous generation of
computers (Dolotta, 47).ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes, occupied 1800
square feet of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of electricity. It used
punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult to program because
one had to essentially re-wire it to perform whatever task he wanted the
computer to do. It was, however, efficient in handling the particular programs
for which it had been designed.

ENIAC is generally accepted as the first successful high-speed electronic
digital computer and was used in many applications from 1946 to 1955 (Dolotta,
50). Mathematician John von Neumann was very interested in the ENIAC. In 1945 he
undertook a theoretical study of computation that demonstrated that a computer
could have a very simple and yet be able to execute any kind of computation
effectively means of proper programmed control without the need for any changes
in hardware. Von Neumann came up with incredible ideas for methods of building
and organizing practical, fast computers. These ideas, which came to be referred
to as the stored-program technique, became fundamental for future generations of
high-speed digital computers and were universally adopted (Hall, 73).

Today, the chip—based computer easily packs the power of more than 10,000
ENIACs into a silicon chip the size of an infant’s fingertip. (Reid 64) The
chip itself was invented by (Jack Kilby) and (Robert Noyce) in 1958, but their
crude devices looked nothing like the sleek, paper—thin devices common now.
(Reid 66) The first integrated circuit had but four transistors and was half an
inch long and narrower than a toothpick. Chips found in today’s PCs, such as
the Motorola 68040, which allows more than 1.2 million transistors onto a chip
half an inch square. (Poole 136) ). The first wave of modern programmed
electronic computers to take advantage of these improvements appeared in 1947.
This group included computers using random access memory (RAM), which is a
memory