3 A Brief History of Computer Technology

3 A Brief History of Computer Technology

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A complete history of computing would include a multitude
of diverse devices such as the ancient Chinese abacus, the
Jacquard loom (1805) and Charles Babbage’s “analytical
engine” (1834). It would also include discussion of
analog and digital computing architectures. As late as the
1960s, mechanical devices, such as the Marchant calculator,
still found widespread application in science and
engineering. During the early days of electronic computing
there was much discussion about the relative merits of
analog vs. digital computers. In fact, as late as the 1960s,
analog computers were routinely used to solve systems of
finite difference equations arising in oil reservoir modeling.
In the end, digital computing devices proved to have the
power, economics and scalability necessary to deal with
large scale computations. Digital computers now dominate

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A Look at the History of Computers

Before the age of electronics, the closest thing to a computer was the abacus, although, strictly speaking, the abacus is actually a calculator since it requires a human operator. Computers, on the other hand, perform calculations automatically by following a series of built-in commands called software.

In the 20th century, breakthroughs in technology allowed for the ever-evolving computing machines that we now depend upon so totally, we practically never give them a second thought. But even prior to the advent of microprocessors and supercomputers, there were certain notable scientists and inventors who helped lay the groundwork for the technology that’s since drastically reshaped every facet of modern life.

The Language Before the Hardware

The universal language in which computers carry out processor instructions originated in the 17th century in the form of the binary numerical system. Developed by German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the system came about

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The use of tools

It is a commonplace that humans are distinguished from other creatures by a technological ability, and man has often been described as a tool-using animal. The distinction is not entirely valid. Some animals do use tools. Chimpanzees are the most often quoted example, stripping a twig to plunge it into an anthill and then eating the tasty termites which cling to the end of it.

A more modern example of tool-using is that of crows living in a walnut avenue in the Japanese town of Sendai. The walnuts are too hard to crack. So the crows have taken to dropping them on a pedestrian crossing where they are crushed by the passing traffic. When it is the pedestrians’ turn, the crows fly in to bear off the fragments.


This chapter is a brief summary of the history of Computers. It is supplemented by the two PBS documentaries video tapes “Inventing the Future”
And “The Paperback Computer”. The
chapter highlights some of the advances to look for in the documentaries.

In particular, when viewing the movies you should look for two things:

  • The progression in hardware representation of a bit of data:
    1. Vacuum Tubes (1950s) – one bit on the size of a thumb;
    2. Transistors (1950s and 1960s) – one bit on the size of a fingernail;
    3. Integrated Circuits (1960s and 70s) – thousands of bits on the size of a hand
    4. Silicon computer chips (1970s and on) – millions of bits on the size of a finger nail.

  • The progression of the ease of use of computers:
    1. Almost impossible to use except by very patient geniuses (1950s);
    2. Programmable by highly
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History of Technology Timeline | Britannica

History of Technology Timeline | Britannica

  • 3.3 million years ago: The first tools
    The history of technology begins even before the beginning of our own species. Sharp flakes of stone used as knives and larger unshaped stones used as hammers and anvils have been uncovered at Lake Turkana in Kenya. The tools were made 3.3 million years ago and thus were likely used by an ancestor such as Australopithecus.
  • 1 million years ago: Fire
    When humanity first used fire is still not definitively known, but, like the first tools, it was probably invented by an ancestor of Homo sapiens. Evidence of burnt material can be found in caves used by Homo erectus beginning about 1 million (and maybe even 1.5 million) years ago.
  • 20,000 to 15,000 years ago: Neolithic Revolution
    During the Neolithic Period several key technologies arose together. Humans moved from getting their food
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Internet History Timeline: ARPANET to the World Wide Web

Credit for the initial concept that developed into the World Wide Web is typically given to Leonard Kleinrock. In 1961, he wrote about ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, in a paper entitled “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets.” Kleinrock, along with other innnovators such as J.C.R. Licklider, the first director of the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO), provided the backbone for the ubiquitous stream of emails, media, Facebook postings and tweets that are now shared online every day. Here, then, is a brief history of the Internet:

The precursor to the Internet was jumpstarted in the early days of computing history, in 1969 with the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). ARPA-funded researchers developed many of the protocols used for Internet communication today. This timeline offers a brief history of the Internet’s evolution:

1965: Two computers at MIT Lincoln Lab communicate with one another using packet-switching

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A Brief History of the Internet

A Brief History
of the Internet

An Illustrated History of Computers

Part 1


John Kopplin © 2002

The first computers were people! That is, electronic computers
(and the earlier mechanical computers) were given this name because they
performed the work that had previously been assigned to people.
“Computer” was originally a job title: it was used to describe
those human beings (predominantly women) whose job it was to perform the
repetitive calculations required to
compute such things as navigational tables, tide charts, and planetary
positions for astronomical almanacs. Imagine you had a job where hour after
hour, day after day, you were to do nothing but compute multiplications.
Boredom would quickly set in, leading to carelessness, leading to mistakes. And
even on your best days you wouldn’t be producing answers very fast. Therefore,
inventors have been searching for hundreds of years

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