The information age began with the realization that machines could emulate the power of minds
In the standard story, the computer’s evolution has been brisk and short. It starts with the giant machines warehoused in World War II–era laboratories. Microchips shrink them onto desktops, Moore’s Law predicts how powerful they will become, and Microsoft capitalizes on the software. Eventually small, inexpensive devices appear that can trade stocks and beam video around the world. That is one way to approach the history of computing—the history of solid-state electronics in the past 60 years.
But computing existed long before the transistor. Ancient astronomers developed ways to predict the motion of the heavenly bodies. The Greeks deduced the shape and size of Earth. Taxes were summed; distances mapped. Always, though, computing was a human pursuit. It was arithmetic, a skill like reading or writing that helped a person make sense of the world.
The age of computing sprang from the abandonment of this limitation. Adding machines and cash registers came first, but equally critical was the quest to organize mathematical computations using what we now call “programs.” The idea of a program first arose in the 1830s, a century before what we traditionally think of as the birth of the computer. Later, the modern electronic computers that came out of World War II gave rise to the notion of the universal computer—a machine capable of any kind of information processing,even including the manipulation of its own programs. These are the computers that power our world today. Yet even as computer technology has matured to the point where it is omnipresent and seemingly limitless, researchers are attempting to use fresh insights from the mind, biological systems and quantum physics to build wholly new types of machines.
• T he first “computers” were people—individuals and teams who would tediously compute sums by hand to fill in artillery tables.
• I nspired by the work of a computing team in revolutionary France, Charles Babbage, a British mathematician, created the first mechanical device that could organize calculations.
• T he first modern computers arrived in the 1950s, as researchers created machines that could use the result of their calculations to alter their operating instructions.
Source of Information : Scientific American September 2009