Computing hardware evolved from machines that needed separate manual action to perform each arithmetic operation, to punched card machines, and then to stored-program computers. The history of stored-program computers relates first to computer architecture, that is, the organization of the units to perform input and output, to store data and to operate as an integrated mechanism (see block diagram to the right). Secondly, this is a history of the electronic components and mechanical devices that comprise these units. Finally, we describe the continuing integration of 21st-century supercomputers, networks, personal devices, and integrated computers/communicators into many aspects of today's society. Increases in speed and memory capacity, and decreases in cost and size in relation to compute power, are major features of the history. As all computers rely on digital storage, and tend to be limited by the size and speed of memory, the history of computer data storage is tied to the development of computers. Before the development of the general-purpose computer, most calculations were done by humans. Mechanical tools to help humans with digital calculations were then called "calculating machines", by proprietary names, or even as they are now, calculators. It was those humans who used the machines who were then called computers; there are pictures of enormous rooms filled with desks at which computers (often young women) used their machines to jointly perform calculations, as for instance, aerodynamic ones required for in aircraft design.
Calculators have continued to develop, but computers add the critical element of conditional response and larger memory, allowing automation of both numerical calculation and in general, automation of many symbol-manipulation tasks. Computer technology has undergone profound... [continues]
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