Computer History

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An Olivetti A5

Curriculum[edit]

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 Coder Merlin™  Computer Science Curriculum Data

Unit: Computer history

Experience Name: Computer History (W1021)

Knowledge and skills:

  • §10.223 Demonstrate knowledge of computer hardware systems, Demonstrate knowledge of the evolution of computer hardware systems and key contributors to their development

Topic areas: Contributors to computer science; Computer hardware

Classroom time (average): 30 minutes

Study time (average): 60 minutes

Successful completion requires knowledge: understand the evolution of computer hardware systems through time; identify key contributors to the development of computer science

Successful completion requires skills: demonstrate proficiency in explaining the progression of computer hardware systems through time; demonstrate proficiency in identifying the individuals and their contributions toward computer science

A Brief History of Computers[edit]

An Abacus[edit]

An Abacus

Prior to the 20th century most calculations were performed by humans. Some early mechanical tools provided assistance (such as the abacus) and they were called calculating machines while the operator was called the computer.

The Difference Engine[edit]

Charles Babbage

The first general purpose computing device is generally considered to have been designed by Charles Babbage, an English mechanical engineer. Charles Babbage first designed a difference engine around 1819, the purpose of which was to compute astronomical and mathematical tables. The difference engine was an automated, mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions. In general, most mathematical functions that are commonly employed by engineers, scientists and navigators can be approximated by polynomials allowing a difference engine to compute tables of useful numbers. The ability to automatically produce these tables enabled a much more rapid production of error-free tables than what was previously possible with a team of humans.

Difference Engine (a small portion) - Drawing


The Analytical Engine[edit]

Babbages Analytical Engine (a small portion)

Though Babbage’s difference engine was never completed in his lifetime, due to politics and difficulties in construction, Babbage realized in 1833 that a much more general design, the Analytical Engine, was possible. The engine would receive input from punched cards, a method being used at the time to direct mechanical looms. For output, the engine would have a printer, curve plotter, and a bell as well as the ability to punch numbers onto cards. It also included an arithmetic logic unit, control flow, and integrated memory.

Ada Lovelace: The First Programmer[edit]

Ada Lovelace

Although computer science and hardware are typically considered a white, masculine field, the first documented computer programmer was Augusta Ada Lovelace.[1] Ada Lovelace, the daughter of renowned poet, Lord Byron, and Annabella Byron, was a woman of nobility trained not only in the arts but also math, music, and French. In 1833, at the age of seventeen, Ada met Charles Babbage at a party, and they would become lifelong friends. When mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea wrote a paper about Babbage's Analytical Engine in a Swiss journal, Ada translated it from French. But in her translation, she also added her notes. Published in 1843, her French translation and accompanying notes would be one of the most important contributions to computer science.[1] In her notes, Ada Lovelace invented the science of computing. In what is known as Note G, Ada wrote out the first computer program, which would have the Analytical Engine compute a series of Bernoulli numbers.[1]

Punch Cards[edit]

Since the early 1700s, the technology of punch cards existed in the textile industry. Punched holes in paper tape would help automate weaving looms. This revolutionized the textile industry and allowed complex patterns to be made and reproduced efficiently. About a hundred years later, the technique of punched cards was generalized, and became an important part of the history of data storage. By the end of the 19th century, Herman Hollerith, a mechanical engineer, revolutionized how the US and other nations took the census by using his Tabulating Machine Company's machines, which read paper punch cards. In 1924, Hollerith's TMC company would become the International Business Machines Corporation, more commonly known as IBM. Punch cards would remain the dominant medium for inputting and storing data and software programs until the 1970s. [2][3]

Differential Analyzer[edit]

Human Computers[edit]

The Turing Machine[edit]

Alan Turing (Aged 16)

More than one hundred years later, in 1936, Alan Turing set out the idea that a device (which later became known as a Turing machine) would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it could be represented as an algorithm.

The Z3[edit]

Konrad Zuse (1992)

Some key ideas developed in the 1930’s demonstrated that there was a one-to-one correspondence between Boolean logic and certain electrical circuits (now called logic gates) which are are now ubiquitous in digital computers. In other words, electronic relays and switches can realize the expressions of Boolean algebra.

In May, 1941, Konrad Zuse, a German civil engineer, completed the Z3, recognized as the world’s first programmable computer. It was very similar to modern machines and used a simpler, binary system rather than the decimal system used by Charles Babbage’s designs. Notably, Zuse anticipated that machine instructions could be stored in the same storage used for data, a key insight.

ENIAC[edit]

The ENIAC Six[edit]

In 1946, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances (Betty) Snyder Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence, and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum became the ENIAC Six--the six women who programmed and operated the ENIAC, running critical ballistics calculations the the military during wartime. Their important roles in ENIAC's operations were lost for decades.[4] In the mid-1980s Kathy Kleiman, then a young programmer, uncovered the story of the ENIAC Six, and in 2013 worked with documentary producers to create The Computers, a 20-minute documentary telling the stories of the ENIAC Six.[5]

Colossus[edit]

Manchester "Baby"[edit]

  • first time operating a program from stored memory

Grace Hopper & The Compiler[edit]

John von Neumann's EDVAC[edit]

UNIVAC[edit]

  • first popularized/household computer

IBM[edit]

  • software as product
  • RAMAC -- first disc drive (replaced punched cards)
  • Mark Dean co-invented IBM PC monitor and gigahertz chip

Memory[edit]

  • magnetic core member (post-1953)
  • semiconductor memory (post-1980)

Storage[edit]

  • disc drives
  • floppy discs


Key Concepts[edit]

Key ConceptsKeyConceptsIcon.png
  • Prior to the 20th century most calculations were performed by humans.
  • Some early mechanical tools provided assistance, these were called calculating machines while the human operators were called computers
  • The first general purpose computing device is generally considered to have been designed by Charles Babbage around 1819; he called this the Difference Engine
    • The Difference Engine was an automated, mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions.
    • Most mathematical functions that are commonly employed by engineers, scientists and navigators can be approximated by polynomials.
    • The ability to automatically produce these tables enabled a much more rapid production of error-free tables.
    • Babbage’s difference engine was never completed in his lifetime.
  • Babbage realized in 1833 that a much more general design, the Analytical Engine, was possible.
    • The engine would receive input from punched cards.
    • The engine would have a printer, curve plotter, a bell, and punched cards for output.
  • More than one hundred years later, in 1936, Alan Turing set out the idea that a device would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it could be represented as an algorithm.
  • In the 1930's it was demonstrated that there was a one-to-one correspondence between Boolean logic and certain electrical circuits.
  • In May, 1941, Konrad Zuse completed the Z3, recognized as the world’s first programmable computer.
    • The Z3 used the binary system rather than the decimal system used by Charles Babbage’s designs.
    • Zuse anticipated that machine instructions could be stored in the same storage used for data.

Exercises[edit]

ExercisesExercisesIcon.png
  •  M1021-10  Complete  Merlin Mission Manager  Mission M1021-10.


Experience Metadata

Experience ID W1021
Unit Computer history
Knowledge and skills §10.223
Topic areas Contributors to computer science
Computer hardware
Classroom time 30 minutes
Study time 1 hour60 minutes <br />
Acquired knowledge understand the evolution of computer hardware systems through time
identify key contributors to the development of computer science
Acquired skill demonstrate proficiency in explaining the progression of computer hardware systems through time
demonstrate proficiency in identifying the individuals and their contributions toward computer science
Additional categories
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 [1] Morais, Betsy. "Ada Lovelace, the First Tech Visionary." The New Yorker. October 15, 2013. Accessed on March 1, 2022.
  2. [2] "Punched Cards" in Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. Computer History Museum. Accessed March 3, 2022.
  3. [3] Scharf, Caleb. "Where Would We Be Without the Paper Punch Card?" Slate Magazine. Accessed March 3, 2022.
  4. [4] "ENIAC at Penn Engineering." University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science.
  5. [5] "Documentary Info." ENIAC Programmers Project. Accessed March 3, 2022.