Last Updated 08 Apr 2020

Reflection Essay on The History of Computer Technology

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This report briefly explains the history of modern computers, starting from the year 1936 to present day time. There are many models of computers documented throughout the years, but they only computer models mentioned are ones that I deemed too have had the greatest effect on computer technology back then and now. This report will show how in just forty years, computers have transformed from slow, room-sized machines, to the small and fast computers of today. Computers are a part of important everyday life, but there was a time when computers did not exist.

Computers are one of the few inventions that do not have one specific inventor. Many inventors have contributed to the production and technology of computers. Some of the inventions have been different types of computers, while the others were parts needed for the computer to function effectively. Many people have added their creations to the list required to make computers work, adding to the overall technology of computers today. The term “computer” originally referred to people. It was a job title for those who did repetitive work with math problems.

A computer is define as a programmable machine that receives input, stores and automatically manipulates data, and provides output in a useful format. The most significant date in the history of computers is in the year of 1936. This is the year the first “computer” was developed by a German engineer named Konrad Zuse. He called it the Z1 Computer and it was the first system to be fully programmable. The Z1 Computer had computing power, setting it apart from other electronic devices. Programming early computers became somewhat of a hassle for inventors and in 1953 Grace Hooper invented the first high level computer language.

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Her invention helped simplify the binary code used by the computer so that its users could dictate the computer’s actions. Hooper’s invention was called Flowmatic and has evolved into modern day technology. In the same year, the International Business Machines (IBM) was introduced into the computing industry, forever altering the age of computers. Throughout computer history, this company has played a major role in the development of new systems and servers for public and private use. Inventors saw IBM as competition within the computing history, which helped to spur faster and better development of computers.

Their first computer technology contribution was the IBM 701 EDPM Computer. During the three years of production, IBM sold 19 machines to research laboratories, aircraft companies, and the federal government. The first computer physically built in America was the IAS computer. It was developed for Advanced Study at Princeton under the direction of John Von Neumann between1946-1950. (History of Computer Technology, 2011). John von Neumann wrote “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC; in which he outlined the architecture of a stored-program computer (Computer History Museum - Timeline of Computer History, 2006).

Electronic storage of programming information and data eliminated the need for the more clumsy methods of programming. An example of stored-program data computer is the IAS computer. Many modern computers trace their ancestry to the IAS machine and they are referred to as von Neumann (or Princeton) architecture machines. The IAS computer embodied the concept of a stored-program computer. The main memory contained two main categories of information, instructions and data. The computer had an ability to place different sequences of instructions in the memory which made the computer very useful.

This allowed inventions to build computers to complete different tasks at different times. Such a computer can be reconfigured (reprogrammed) at any time to perform a new or different task. The Hungarian-born von Neumann demonstrated prodigious expertise in hydrodynamics, ballistics, meteorology, game theory, statistics, and the use of mechanical devices for computation contributed to the production of the modern day computer (Computer History Museum - Timeline of Computer History, 2006).

In 1955, Bank of America coupled with Stanford Research Institute and General Electric; saw the creation of the first computers for use in banks. Researchers at the Stanford Research Institute invented “ERMA”, the Electronic Recording Method of Accounting computer processing system. ERMA updated and posted checking accounts and manually processed checks and account management. The MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) was a part of ERMA and allowed computers to read special numbers at the bottom of the checks.

This technology helped with the tracking and accounting of checks transactions. ERMA was officially demonstrated to the public in September 1955 and first tested on real banking accounts in the fall of 1956. (Blain, 2005). Today, computer technology has transformed the banking industry. One of the most important breakthroughs in computer history occurred in 1958. This was the creation of the integrated circuit, known as the chip. The integrated circuit device is one of the base requirements for the modern computer systems.

On every motherboard and card inside the computer system, are many chips that contain vital information on what the boards and cards do. Without the integrated circuit, the computers known today would not be able to function. The first commercially integrated circuits became available from the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in 1961. All computers then started to be made using chips instead of the individual transistors and their accompanying parts. Texas Instruments first used the chips in Air Force computers and the Minuteman Missile in 1962.

They later used the chips to produce the first electronic portable calculators. The original integrated chip had only one transistor, three resistors and one capacitor and was the size of an adult's pinkie finger. Today, an integrated chip is smaller than a penny and can hold 125 million transistors (Bellis). The late 1970s saw the popularization of personal computers and the progress continues from then until now. An explosion of personal computers occurred in the 1970s. The Tandy Corporation was one of the leading companies in computer technology.

Their most popular invention was the TRS-80 arriving on the market in the late 1970s. It was immediately popular, selling out at Radio Shack where it was exclusively sold. The TRS-80 was sold for only $600, making it affordable for many individuals to own their own personal computer. Within its first year, over 55,000 consumers bought Tandy TRO-80 to use in their home or office and over 250,000 of them sold in the next few years. Tandy Corporation’s TRS-80 had a keyboard and motherboard all in one. This is a common trend that other companies today use for their personal computer products.

TRS-80 also included office applications, including a word processor, calculator, and early spreadsheet capabilities (The People History - Computers From the 1970s). People during the late 70s embraced personal computers and used them for a variety of reasons, such as, games, office applications, home finances, storing date, and many other necessary usages. In 1975, Apple Computers was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniac. The Apple II was launched in 1977 and was an immediate success as well. Apple created the “home/personal computer” that could be used by anybody.

The success of the Apple II established Apple Computers as a main competitor in the field of personal computers. Then Dan Bricklin created a spreadsheet program called VisiCalc for the Apple II. It went on sale in 1979 and within four years it sold 700,000 copies at $250 a time (Trueman, 2000). By 1980, there were one million personal computers in the world. Computers have come an enormous way since their initial establishment, as the earliest electronic computers were so large that they would take up the entire area of a room, while today some are so small that they can fit in your hands.

While computers are now an important part of the everyday lives of human beings, there was a time where computers did not exist. Knowing the history of computers and how much progression has been made can help individuals understand just how complicated and innovative the creation of computers really is. The first programmable digital computers invented in the 1940s have dramatically changed in appearance and technology from today. They were as big as living rooms and were about as powerful as modern day calculators. Modern computers are billions of times more capable than early machines and occupy less space.

Simple computers, such as smart phones, are small enough to fit into mobile devices, and can be powered on by a small battery. In today's world, computers play an incredibly large role in the way the world exists in general, and the majority of tasks could actually not be completed if not for the use of computers. Although there are certainly some areas and jobs that cannot yet be completed solely by computers and which thus still require actual manpower, for the most part, computers have helped to make life significantly easier, productive, and more convenient for us all.

Future computer technology will help solve many medical problems by reinterpreting sensory data and modulating brain activity. Technology will be so advanced that it may allow people who have lost the use of their limbs to use robotics to regain their disabled movements. The future of computer technology is very bright and welcomed indeed. Current trends, research, and development happening at a lightning speed supports this statement. Our children today will see a whole new world of technology with computers within the next decade.

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