To learn about the evolution of computing
To recount the important and key events
To identify some of the milestones in computer development
Babbage’s Analytical Engine - 1833
Mechanical, digital, general-purpose
Could store instructions
Could perform mathematical calculations
Had the ability to print
Could punched cards as permanent memory
Invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard
2.1 Turing Machine – 1936
Introduced by Alan Turing in 1936, Turing machines are one of the key
abstractions used in modern
computability theory, the study of what computers can and cannot do. A
Turing machine is a
particularly simple kind of computer, one whose operations are limited
to reading and writing symbols
on a tape, or moving along the tape to the left or right.
The tape is marked off into squares, each of
which can be filled with at most one symbol. At any given point in its
operation, the Turing machine
can only read or write on one of these squares, the square located
directly below its "read/write" head.
2.2 The “Turing test”
A test proposed to determine if a computer has the ability to think. In
1950, Alan Turing (Turing, 1950)
proposed a method for determining if machines can think. This method is
known as The Turing Test.
The test is conducted with two people and a machine. One person plays
the role of an interrogator and is
in a separate room from the machine and the other person. The
interrogator only knows the person and
machine as A and B. The interrogator does not know which the person is
and which the machine is.
Using a teletype, the interrogator, can ask A and B any question he/she
wishes. The aim of the
interrogator is to determine which the person is and which the machine
The aim of the machine is to fool the interrogator into thinking that it
is a person. If the machine
succeeds then we can conclude that machines can think.
2.3 Vacuum Tube – 1904:
A vacuum tube is just that: a glass tube surrounding a vacuum (an area
from which all gases has been
removed). What makes it interesting is that when electrical contacts are
put on the ends, you can get a
current to flow though that vacuum.
A British scientist named John A. Fleming made a vacuum tube known today
as a diode. Then the diode
was known as a "valve,"
2.4 ABC – 1939
The Atanasoff-Berry Computer was the world's first electronic digital
computer. It was built by John
Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry at Iowa State University during
1937-42. It incorporated several
major innovations in computing including the use of binary arithmetic,
regenerative memory, parallel
processing, and separation of memory and computing functions.
2.5 Harvard Mark 1 – 1943:
Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper designed the MARK series of computers at
Harvard University. The
MARK series of computers began with the Mark I in 1944. Imagine a giant
roomful of noisy, clicking
metal parts, 55 feet long and 8 feet high. The 5-ton device contained
almost 760,000 separate pieces.
Used by the US Navy for gunnery and ballistic calculations, the Mark I
was in operation until 1959.
The computer, controlled by pre-punched paper tape, could carry out
multiplication, division and reference to previous results. It had
special subroutines for logarithms and
trigonometric functions and used 23 decimal place numbers. Data was
stored and counted mechanically
using 3000 decimal storage wheels, 1400 rotary dial switches, and 500
miles of wire. Its
electromagnetic relays classified the machine as a relay computer. All
output was displayed on an
electric typewriter. By today's standards, the Mark I was slow,
requiring 3-5 seconds for a multiplication
2.6 ENIAC – 1946:
ENIAC I (
alculator). The U.S. military sponsored their research;
they needed a calculating device for writing artillery-firing tables
(the settings used for different
weapons under varied conditions for target accuracy).
John Mauchly was the chief consultant and J Presper Eckert was the chief
engineer. Eckert was a
graduate student studying at the Moore School when he met John Mauchly
in 1943. It took the team
about one year to design the ENIAC and 18 months and 500,000 tax dollars
to build it.
The ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, along with 70,000 resistors and
2.7 Transistor – 1947
The first transistor was invented at Bell Laboratories on December 16,
1947 by William Shockley. This
was perhaps the most important electronics event of the 20th century, as
it later made possible the
integrated circuit and microprocessor that are the basis of modern
electronics. Prior to the transistor the
only alternative to its current regulation and switching functions
(TRANSfer resISTOR) was the
vacuum tubes, which could only be miniaturized to a certain extent, and
wasted a lot of energy in the
form of heat.
Compared to vacuum tubes, it offered:
lower power consumption
2.8 Floppy Disk – 1950
Invented at the Imperial University in Tokyo by Yoshiro Nakamats
2.9 UNIVAC 1 – 1951
UNIVAC-1. The first commercially successful electronic computer, UNIVAC
I, was also the first
general purpose computer - designed to handle both numeric and textual
information. It was designed by
J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. The implementation of this machine
marked the real beginning of
the computer era. Remington Rand delivered the first UNIVAC machine to
the U.S. Bureau of Census
in 1951. This machine used magnetic tape for input.
First successful commercial computer design was derived from the ENIAC
first client = U.S. Bureau of the Census
48 systems built
2.10 Compiler – 1952
Grace Murray Hopper an employee of Remington-Rand worked on the NUIVAC.
She took up the
concept of reusable software in her 1952 paper entitled "The Education
of a Computer" and developed
the first software that could translate symbols of higher computer
languages into machine language.
2.11 ARPANET – 1969
The Advanced Research Projects Agency was formed with an emphasis
towards research, and thus was
not oriented only to a military product. The formation of this agency
was part of the U.S. reaction to the
then Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957. (ARPA draft, III-6). ARPA
was assigned to research
how to utilize their investment in computers via Command and Control
Research (CCR). Dr. J.C.R.
Licklider was chosen to head this effort
Developed for the US DoD Advanced Research Projects Agency 60,000
computers connected for
communication among research organizations and universities
2.12 Intel 4004 – 1971
The 4004 was the world's first universal microprocessor. In the late
1960s, many scientists had
discussed the possibility of a computer on a chip, but nearly everyone
felt that integrated circuit
technology was not yet ready to support such a chip. Intel's Ted Hoff
felt differently; he was the first
person to recognize that the new silicon-gated MOS technology might make
a single-chip CPU (central
processing unit) possible.
Hoff and the Intel team developed such architecture with just over 2,300
transistors in an area of only 3
by 4 millimeters. With its 4-bit CPU, command register, decoder,
decoding control, control monitoring
of machine commands and interim register, the 4004 was one heck of a
little invention. Today's 64-bit
microprocessors are still based on similar designs, and the
microprocessor is still the most complex
mass-produced product ever with more than 5.5 million transistors
performing hundreds of millions of
calculations each second - numbers that are sure to be outdated fast.
2.13 Altair 8800 – 1975
By 1975 the market for the personal computer was demanding a product
that did not require an
electrical engineering background and thus the first mass produced and
marketed personal computer
(available both as a kit or assembled) was welcomed with open arms.
Developers Edward Roberts,
William Yates and Jim Bybee spent 1973-1974 to develop the MITS (Micro
Systems ) Altair 8800. The price was $375, contained 256 bytes of memory
(not 256k),but had no
keyboard, no display, and no auxiliary storage device. Later, Bill Gates
and Paul Allen wrote their first
product for the Altair -- a BASIC compiler (named after a planet on a
Star Trek episode).
2.14 Cray 1 – 976
It looked like no other computer before, or for that matter, since. The
Cray 1 was the world's first
"supercomputer," a machine that leapfrogged existing technology when it
was introduced in 1971.
And back then, you couldn't just order up fast processors from Intel.
"There weren't any
microprocessors," says Gwen Bell of The Computer Museum History Center.
integrated circuits that are on the board performed different
Each Cray 1, like this one at The Computer Museum History Center, took
months to build. The
hundreds of boards and thousands of wires had to fit just right. "It was
really a hand-crafted machine,"
adds Bell. "You think of all these wires as a kind of mess, but each one
has a precise length."
2.15 IBM PC – 1981
On August 12, 1981, IBM released their new computer, re-named the IBM
PC. The "PC" stood for
"personal computer" making IBM responsible for popularizing the term
The first IBM PC ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor. The PC
came equipped with 16
kilobytes of memory, expandable to 256k. The PC came with one or two
160k Floppy Disks Drives and
an optional color monitor. The price tag started at $1,565, which would
be nearly $4,000 today.
2.16 Apple Macintosh – 1984
Apple introduced the Macintosh to the nation on January 22, 1984. The
original Macintosh had 128
kilobytes of RAM, although this first model was simply called
"Macintosh" until the 512K model came
out in September 1984. The Macintosh retailed for $2495. It wasn't until
the Macintosh that the general
population really became aware of the mouse-driven graphical user
2.17 World Wide Web -1989
"CERN is a meeting place for physicists from all over the world, who
collaborate on complex physics,
engineering and information handling projects. Thus, the need for the
WWW system arose "from the
geographical dispersion of large collaborations, and the fast turnover
of fellows, students, and visiting
scientists," who had to get "up to speed on projects and leave a lasting
contribution before leaving."
CERN possessed both the financial and computing resources necessary to
start the project. In the
original proposal, Berners-Lee outlined two phases of the project:
First, CERN would "make use of existing software and hardware as well as
browsers for the user's workstations, based on an analysis of the
requirements for information access
needs by experiments."
Second, they would "extend the application area by also allowing the
users to add new material."
Berners-Lee expected each phase to take three months "with the full
manpower complement": he was
asking for four software engineers and a programmer. The proposal talked
about "a simple scheme to
incorporate several different servers of machine-stored information
already available at CERN."
Set off in 1989, the WWW quickly gained great popularity among Internet
users. For instance, at 11:22
am of April 12, 1995, the WWW server at the SEAS of the University of
Pennsylvania "responded to
128 requests in one minute. Between 10:00 and 11:00
2.18 Quantum Computing with Molecules
by Neil Gershenfeld and Isaac L. Chuang
Factoring a number with 400 digits--a numerical feat needed to break
some security codes--would take
even the fastest supercomputer in existence billions of years. But a
newly conceived type of computer,
one that exploits quantum-mechanical interactions, might complete the
task in a year or so, thereby
defeating many of the most sophisticated encryption schemes in use.
Sensitive data are safe for the time
being, because no one has been able to build a practical quantum
computer. But researchers have now
demonstrated the feasibility of this approach. Such a computer would
look nothing like the machine that
sits on your desk; surprisingly, it might resemble the cup of coffee at
Several research groups believe quantum computers based on the molecules
in a liquid might one day
overcome many of the limits facing conventional computers. Roadblocks to
computers will ultimately arise from the fundamental physical bounds to
miniaturization (for example,
because transistors and electrical wiring cannot be made slimmer than
the width of an atom). Or they
may come about for practical reasons--most likely because the facilities
for fabricating still more
powerful microchips will become prohibitively expensive. Yet the magic
of quantum mechanics might
solve both these problems.