Computers are an omnipresent part of our lives in the 21st century. Certainly, when most people think about computers, they imagine the desktop. However, at this point, the word encapsulates so much more. Laptops, notebooks, an argument could be made that even smartphones are just miniature computers.
It truly is impressive that the science and technology behind computers has come such a long way. It is also worth exploring how and where did computers start. In this article, we are going to go over the complete history of the computer, from its earliest predecessor to its modern iteration.
The Ancient World
Can we really look at the Ancient world and say that they had computers? Well, no, obviously not. However, one could debate that the predecessor of the computer was created in Mesopotamia. We are, of course, referring to the abacus.
An abacus is little more than a counting tool. A frame that encompasses several beads that one could use to solve algebra and similar math problems. The abacus has endured throughout history, and indeed, you can see this device used by many merchants, even to this day.
However, to say that an abacus and a computer are directly related is, perhaps, a bit absurd. Indeed, there is quite a bit of a bridge between modern-day personal computers and the ancient abacus. One of the biggest developments in computer history came in the 17th century when great men like Pascal and Leibniz created their own concept for a mechanical calculator.
The Mechanical Calculator
Based on the evidence we have, the earliest example of a mechanical calculator, in theory, comes from the notes of one Wilhelm Schickard. A professor of Hebrew and astronomy in whose notes historians have discovered detailed designs of a mechanical calculator. These notes were largely lost for a long time, which is why Blaise Pascal (more details) has often been misattributed as the creator of the calculator.
Not to diminish the work and importance of Pascal, of course. A child prodigy and genius inventor in his own right, Pascal could definitely be called the creator of the earliest mechanical calculator. Indeed, his work has had a significant contribution to the development of the modern computer.
But just what is a mechanical calculator? Well, as the name suggests, it is a mechanical device capable of processing basic arithmetic. Historically, mechanical calculators were, indeed, very close in use to early computers. They were about the size of a desktop and could run some simple, as well as complex simulations or even serve as a slide rule.
Mechanical calculators were a huge step in the direction towards digital computers. Though the advent of electricity made them obsolete, due to the creation of the electric calculator, they are still vastly considered an important first step.
Charles Babbage and the “First Computer”
The industrial era brought with it innovation, change, and an incredible amount of scientific advancement. Therefore, it is unsurprising that it is also the era in which we got the “first computer,” created by Charles Babbage. Often called the “father of computers,” we have Babbage to thank for the digital era that we take for granted today.
As we said in the introduction, computers are an omnipresent part of our lives. We use them for work, we use them to communicate, we use them to calculate, and, of course, we use them for entertainment, and we even use them to gamble.
Online casinos have become an incredibly popular phenomenon, attracting gamblers from all around the world. We can access these sites from our phones, PCs, tablets, or pretty much any electronic device. Certainly, there are quite a few online gambling apps we recommend, but it is important to note that none of it would be possible without Babbage and his Analytical Engine.
Created in 1830, the analytical engine was a multi-purpose mechanical device capable of performing incredible feats in arithmetic, logic, and memory. If that sounds familiar, it is because it describes an early computer. Thanks to Charles Babbage, early 20th-century scientists were capable of advancing the analytical engine and managed to put together the first-ever electronic computers.
20th Century Electronic Computers
As stated, Babbage’s analytical engine served an important role in advancing computer science and technology. The machine’s creation opened the door for future engineers, who worked hard to improve upon the design. By the early-to-mid 20th century, many of them were incredibly successful. Let us look at some early versions of the digital computer that we are all familiar with today.
- Konrad Zuse’s Z3
The Z3 was Konrad Zuse’s greatest creation. An electromechanical computer, which we recognize today as the first programmable and fully automatic digital computer. Because of the Z3, Konrad Zuse is often considered the creator of the modern computer.
- Atanasoff-Berry Computer
Created by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, the Atanasoff-Berry computer, (or ABC) came a year after Zuse’s Z3, according to Nyu.edu. The device was not programmable, which has gotten it quite a bit of scrutiny from modern scientists. However, its historical significance has earned it a spot on our list.
Finally, we reach ENIAC (see SmithsonianMag.com). Every computer scientist has heard of ENIAC. The device is largely agreed to be the first programmable, electronic, multi-purpose digital computer. The machine was finished in 1945, and was designed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. Its creation is one of the biggest milestones in computer history.
Computer history is a fascinating subject. Each era builds and innovates based on previous designs. It is precisely thanks to this innovation that we’ve now achieved a world where everyone has a high-powered computer in their back-pocket. Not only that, but the omnipresence of the internet has completely changed up our everyday lives, making us more connected than ever before. Were it not for the great scientists who contributed to the development of computer science and technology, the creation of the world wide web would not have been possible. Indeed, we have a lot to thank them for.