The most important invention is the computer

History of the computer

Computer - Calculator - Calculations

Computer is a Latin-English word. It means something like calculating machine, calculating device. In the late Middle Ages and early modern times, the word "computer" was a job title for people who made calculations. Computers were people who performed very complicated and lengthy calculations for astronomers, for example.

The workers who operated the mechanical calculating machines were later called computers. Today the word is used to describe a machine that processes data with the help of a regulation - a program.

Computers are freely programmable universal machines, that is, the user enters something (input), the computer processes the data entered in a desired manner (program) - and delivers a result (output). Data processed by the computer can be output as calculations, equations, tables, diagrams, texts, constructions, drawings and images, for example.

From the head into the machine

In the middle of the 17th century, two universal scholars, the German Wilhelm Schickard and the French Blaise Pascal, independently developed the first calculating machines. The idea behind it was to provide people with technical support for difficult calculations. Since humans naturally tire and make mistakes, a machine that is superior in terms of precision and speed should help out.

The mechanical adding machine "Pascaline", devised by Pascal in 1642, was the first application-oriented calculating machine in the world to add and subtract six-digit numbers.

Pascal had a solid professional use for his invention. He wanted to use the machine to relieve his father, who worked as a tax collector. The machines developed by Pascal and Schickard were far from technically mature, but by and large they were already functional.

While the first calculating machines were theoretically well thought-out devices, there was a fundamental lack of technical implementation. Because if an inventor had come up with a brilliant idea for a calculating machine at that time, he first had to convey this idea to a designer, who in turn had to be able to penetrate the idea of ​​the machine and then construct it according to the exact ideas of the inventor.

A central problem was initially the loss of information between the inventor and the designer. Then the successful implementation failed in most cases due to the availability of suitable materials and tools, and the costs for the construction of such complex machines were extremely high.

Mechanization of office work

Up until the middle of the 19th century, dozens of new calculating machines were conceived, worked out and implemented, but none of the devices was built and sold in series. This also included the "analytical machine" designed by Charles Babbage around 1837, which mastered the four basic arithmetic operations and was programmable.

The corresponding language was written by Babbag's colleague Ada Lovelace, who is thus considered to be the very first female programmer. Today we know that Babbag's steam-powered machine would have worked, but its construction failed due to a lack of individual parts and financial resources.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that the development and production of calculating machines made progress, especially in the USA, in the course of the mechanization of office work. Simple calculating machines were manufactured and used on a large scale alongside the development of typewriters and cash registers.

Before the actual invention of the computer, the age of punched card machines began, which heralded the breakthrough in the mass processing of data and was in use until the 1950s.

Zuse and the consequences

The computer as an electromechanical and finally as a fully electronic data processing system is an invention of the 20th century, conceived and built in the middle of World War II. The first mainframe computers were outstanding engineering achievements, which were mostly based on theoretical and practical basic research by many different inventors and scientists such as the German Konrad Zuse.

At that time, computers around the world could be counted on one hand, including such well-known machines as Zuse, Mark and ENIAC. These first electronic computers of mankind were monstrous systems in their dimensions, which had to be constantly maintained and only had a fraction of the computing power that every conventional PC has today.

It was only the miniaturization of the switching processes that favored the development of the home or personal computer. In the mid-1950s, the previously used, heavy and space-filling relays and tubes were replaced by light and small transistors. A transistor is an electronic semiconductor component that switches and controls electrical pulses.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Intel surprised the professional world with the sensation of being able to place entire rows of transistors on a piece of silicon to save space. The chip, the microprocessor - the heart of every modern computer - was born.

Long legend: the "Altair 8800"

The miniaturization of the computer itself was now only a matter of time. In 1975 the time had come: the American dentist and inventor Ed Roberts brought a home computer kit onto the market for 397 dollars, which he named "Altair 8800". This kit would become a legend - it was the first home computer ever to hit stores.

But hardly anyone could do anything with the box. Various toggle switches could be used to enter command sequences, and if the user had done everything correctly, a few lights would come on.

The first PC was a head without arms or legs, it had no keyboard, no mouse, and you couldn't even connect a monitor. All the more so, there was no software or application program.

But the Altair hit the nerve of its time. It seemed as if the world had only been waiting for this completely half-baked mini-computer. An unbelievable number of orders were received, thousands of technology freaks stood in line to purchase one of the coveted computer kits. Back then it was probably simply about being able to call a real computer - no matter how simple it was - one's own.

Oversleep visions

This first computer fever in the mid-1970s suddenly brought together many technically interested and computer-enthusiastic inventors who organized themselves in small clubs and working groups. They began to develop their computers further away from the development laboratories of large and long-established companies.

So-called interfaces were developed to which a keyboard or a monitor could be connected. The company Xerox, market leader in copiers, on the other hand, developed a functional home computer very early on. But Xerox showed no interest in bringing the small computer to market.

Analogous to the company IBM, the market leader in the field of mainframe systems, Xerox underestimated the enormous market potential for the small computer and did not recognize the promising future of this new technical achievement in good time.

PC revolution

That cleared the way for young visionaries and ingenious hobbyists. The small computer was reinvented from scratch. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met in one of the legendary Altair clubs. Together they founded the Apple company, which has been a style-defining factor in the development of home computers to this day.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates was able to rise from a garage tinkerer to a multi-billionaire in the early 1980s because he designed the urgently needed software for the PC and cleverly marketed his MS-DOS and Windows operating systems and made them suitable for the masses.

A technology changes the world

The complicated calculating machines have long been controlling our airplanes, cars and cameras, and most desks have a PC. Computers have become an indispensable part of work, everyday life and leisure time. They are found in companies, offices and boardrooms, in children's rooms and living rooms.

Computers organize and organize the fortunes of business and industry, transportation and traffic. Computers are central tools in science, technology and medicine. Computers play a central role in military conflicts and wars; in peacetime they simulate complex climatic changes and help to identify natural disasters at an early stage.

The computer plays the most important role today in interpersonal communication. Internet and e-mail connect people in the most distant places with one another through computers, information and data can be exchanged, accessed and disseminated in a fraction of a second. The wheel of history can no longer be turned back, without computers the complexity of modern industrial nations would not be sustainable today.