History of the Computer

In today’s society, it is difficult to imagine life without computers. The vast majority of people rely on desktop machines and laptops every single day, but where did computers come from? Who was responsible for inventing them and when did they first appear?

The Analytical Engine

In 1834, British mathematician Charles Babbage came up with the idea of a general-purpose computer featuring a memory and calculating unit, which could be programmed.

Although the Analytical Engine idea was never built due to differences of opinion and a lack of funding, a replica was built 150 years later, which operated exactly as Babbage predicted.

Babbage envisioned a machine that could prove whether mathematical statements could be proved true or false, which would become the foundation of theoretical computer science.

Computer Science

In the mid-1930s, another British pioneer Alan Turing came up with a conceptual plan known as the Universal Turing Machine, which would be able to automatically compute any problem based on a set of instructions.

Around the same time, German engineer Konrad Zuse was putting theory into practice and developed a series of machines that could complete his calculations. Although he managed to create a fully functioning, program-controlled machine, World War II meant his work did not receive widespread recognition.

World War II

During this difficult period in history computing technology grew and advanced, with American physicist John Mauchly and engineer Presper Eckert producing the first all-electronic computer controlled by a program in 1943. Even though the ENIAC was much faster than previous machines, it had to be rewired for each problem, as there was no memory.

Once the war ended, ENIAC was declassified so that members of the scientific community could build on its advanced foundations. After it became apparent that memory was of the upmost importance, this became a priority for engineers and developers.

One of the first computers that was able to run a program from memory was the Manchester Baby, built by Manchester University in 1948.

The Modern Era

Soon it became apparent that computers were going to be big business and the rate of progress accelerated rapidly.

In 1958, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce developed the Integrated Circuit, otherwise known as The Chip. Then in the early 1970s, Intel introduced the world’s first available dynamic RAM chip and microprocessor.

By the 1980s, household names such as IBM, Apple and Commodore had all released consumer computers and the world hasn’t looked back since.

Patent Problems

In some respects, the evolution of the computer has been made possible by the fact no patent has ever been in place for a significant amount of time.

Although Zuse tried and failed on two separate occasions, Eckert and Mauchly did eventually manage to secure a patent. With their company, which had now become Sperry Rand, demanding royalties from anyone building a computer, it looked like progress would slow down.

However, market competitor Honeywell managed to prove that Mauchly had previously visited John Vincent Atanasoff’s computing machine in 1940, meaning the development of the computer was derived from a prior work. The concept of the computer was therefore not patentable.

So who invented the computer?

it was not one person who invented the computer, rather a drawn out journey of incremental steps featuring innovation and inspiration. Even today, the boundaries of computing are being tested and pushed, as it seems like the true power of technology has no limits.