The History of Modern Computers (translation)

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The History of Modern Computers

The history of early computing devices is rather long. Today changes in computing are much more rapid. In fact, it is not uncommon today for major changes in computing technology to occur in months rather than years.
Because of today’s rapid change in computing and technology, the easiest way to understand modern computing is with the use of the term generation. Like generations of humans, there are a number of similarities in computers of the same generation. In computer terms, a new generation is usually marked with a major development in computer hardware. However, new developments in electronic engineering also make new computer applications possible.
First-Generation Computers
The early computers were developed by scholars or inventors with support from the government or wealthy patrons. The inventors themselves operated the computer. On occasion, other scientists, engineers, or the government would use the computer. Further, most early computers were designed for one specific, narrow purpose. However, when early computers showed success in specific applications, business and industry began to show an interest. The entrance of computers into the commercial world is one characteristic of the first generation of computers. First-generation computers were developed during the 1940s and lasted through much of the 1950s.
The first computer to find users in business and industry was the universal automatic computer, or UNIVAC I, developed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. Eckert and Mauchly were quick to see the commercial applications of computers. The two inventors formed a private company and designed the UNIVAC for manufacture. However, lacking the funds to build the machine, they sold their company to Remington-Rand Corporation, and Remington-Rand sold the first UNIVAC to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1951.
Although the government was the first to take advantage of the UNIVAC I, its applications in business and industry soon became clear. This computer was not a machine limited to a single use. It could count inventory, calculate payroll, monitor accounts receivable, and maintain a general ledger. Even though it took a staff of dozen of people to operate the UNIVAC I and other first-generation computers, these machines could do the work of many bookkeepers and accountants. Thus, a company could justify its large initial investment, purchasing the computer and hiring dozens of specialized programmers, by the increasing accuracy and speed of work and more effective use of personnel resources. That is, with a computer, accountants and bookkeepers didn’t have to spend hours every day by checking the accuracy of reports. Their new task was to interpret the data generated by the computer. Thus, the use of first-generation computers in business didn’t result in the displacement of a large number of employees, but did result in a redefinition of their jobs.
First-generation computers used vacuum tubes, first established by Atanasoff and Berry. Vacuum tubes are electrical switches that work much faster than mechanical switching devices. A machine with vacuum tubes could perform several thousand calculations per second – slow by today’s standards, but breathtakingly fast at the time.
Unfortunately, vacuum tubes generated heat, which caused them to break down. They were susceptible to frequent failures, shorts, and electronic fluctuations or surges. First-generation computers had to be housed in air-conditioned rooms. The rooms also had to be very large, because the computers themselves were huge in order to hold several different size vacuum tubes.....

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Second-Generation Computers
The second generation, which began about 1959 and lasted until the mid-1960s, was characterized by the use of transistors in place of vacuum tubes. Transistors do the same work as vacuum tubes but are smaller and faster, use less power, are much more reliable, and allow much larger memory for storing instructions and calculating. For example, second-generation computers could perform as many as 230000 calculations per second versus 3500 to 17000 for first-generation machines. Because transistors require fair less energy to operate than tubes (about 1/100 the power), second-generation computers were also much less expensive to operate than their predecessors....
Third-Generation Computers
The development and use of integrated circuits marks third-generation computing. This generation lasted from about 1964 until about 1970. An integrated circuit consists of thousands of circuits printed on a small silicon card commonly called a chip. The advantage of chips is that a single chip can replace thousands of transistors. By using integrated circuits, computers could perform more than 2500000 calculations per second. Integrated circuits are more reliable than transistors because they use less electricity and have a longer usable life......
Fourth-Generation Computers
Ultraminiaturization of the integrated circuit characterizes fourth-generation computers (1970s until today). Through ultraminiaturization, or microminiaturization, the equivalent of several hundred thousand transistors are placed on a chip the size of a thumbtack. A microchip or microprocessor can perform millions of calculations each second. Intel Corporation developed the first microprocessor, called the 4004, as a controlling chip for any device that manipulated information. While this first microprocessor was not an immediate success, Intel continued to refine the microprocessor and released the 8008 a year later. Unfortunately, the 8008 had many technical problems and proved to be inadequate for most needs. However, the 8008 formed the basis for the Intel 8080 microprocessor, the chip that ushered in the age of microcomputers......
Fifth-Generation Computers
What will mark the beginning of the fifth generation of computers? Are we in the fifth generation? Computer historians disagree. Some contend that in the fifth generation every home will have some form of microcomputer. This microcomputer may be of the type already familiar to all of us. It may be a new type that controls or regulates heat, electricity, security, and other functions such as cooking or water purifying. It may enable people to work at home, do their schoolwork at home, or shop at home. Others contend that we will not reach the fifth generation until computer can deduce, infer, and learn, that is, until computers have intelligence.
Whatever happens in the next generation of computers, it will be an exciting development. New technologies will solve many of today’s problems. However, as with all advances in technology, there will be new limitations and new problems.....


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