Computers and Society

Topics: Computer, Personal computer, Server Pages: 9 (3242 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Computers and Society

The decade of the 1980's saw an explosion in computer technology and computer usage that deeply changed society. Today computers are a part of everyday life, they are in their simplest form a digital watch or more complexly computers manage power grids, telephone networks, and the money of the world. Henry Grunwald, former US ambassador to Austria best describes the computer's functions, "It enables the mind to ask questions, find answers, stockpile knowledge, and devise plans to move mountains, if not worlds." Society has embraced the computer and accepted it for its many powers which can be used for business, education, research, and warfare.

The first mechanical calculator, a system of moving beads called the abacus, was invented in Babylonia around 500 BC. The abacus provided the fastest method of calculating until 1642, when the French scientist Pascal invented a calculator made of wheels and cogs. The concept of the modern computer was first outlined in 1833 by the British mathematician Charles Babbage. His design of an analytical engine contained all of the necessary components of a modern computer: input devices, a memory, a control unit, and output devices. Most of the actions of the analytical engine were to be done through the use of punched cards. Even though Babbage worked on the analytical engine for nearly 40 years, he never actually made a working machine.

In 1889 Herman Hollerith, an American inventor, patented a calculating machine that counted, collated, and sorted information stored on punched cards. His machine was first used to help sort statistical information for the 1890 United States census. In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company to produce similar machines. In 1924, the company changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation. IBM made punch-card office machinery that dominated business until the late 1960s, when a new generation of computers made the punch card machines obsolete.

The first fully electronic computer used vacuum tubes, and was so secret that its existence was not revealed until decades after it was built. Invented by the English mathematician Alan Turing and in 1943, the Colossus was the computer that British cryptographers used to break secret German military codes. The first modern general-purpose electronic computer was ENIAC or the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator. Designed by two American engineers, John Mauchly and Presper Eckert, Jr., ENIAC was first used at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946.

The invention of the transistor in 1948 brought about a revolution in computer development, vacuum tubes were replaced by small transistors that generated little heat and functioned perfectly as switches. Another big breakthrough in computer miniaturization came in 1958, when Jack Kilby designed the first integrated circuit. It was a wafer that included transistors, resistors, and capacitors the major components of electronic circuitry. Using less expensive silicon chips, engineers succeeded in putting more and more electronic components on each chip. Another revolution in microchip technology occurred in 1971 when the American engineer Marcian Hoff combined the basic elements of a computer on one tiny silicon chip, which he called a microprocessor. This microprocessor the Intel 4004 and the hundreds of variations that followed are the dedicated computers that operate thousands of modern products and form the heart of almost every general-purpose electronic computer.

By the mid-1970s, microchips and microprocessors had reduced the cost of the thousands of electronic components required in a computer. The first affordable desktop computer designed specifically for personal use was called the Altair 8800, first sold in 1974. In 1977 Tandy Corporation became the first major electronics firm to produce a personal computer. Soon afterward, a company named Apple Computer, founded by Stephen...
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