Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Who invented the world’s first computer?

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Nowadays we take their presence for granted, but computers, smartphones and company servers are elements of our daily life that have their roots in a very long and compelling story at the same time. One of those exceptional by its very nature, and which has the merit of having made way for computers in their broadest sense.

On the other hand, if we were to ask ourselves what has really changed the world, the computer would certainly be among the first answers: since it was invented, its application in the various spheres of our life is increasingly widespread, and in some cases even indispensable. But have you ever wondered who invented the first computer in history and when?

Or where and from what does the technology we use every day come from? Questions to which we will immediately answer, retracing together the history of the computer and its origin, as well as the evolution that has led this gem of human ingenuity to incarnate itself in such different forms and solutions in the modern era.

Computer history

Even before asking who invented the first computer, we should take a big step back in time and focus on when . Not surprisingly, there have been numerous studies and events prior to the birth of the computer, and which were fundamental for its actual creation. In 1833, Charles Babbage designed the analytical engine , the first truly programmable computer, in the modern sense, in history.

Only the mill, the ALU, was built, but a complete prototype was never built. It was the first example of a machine design equipped with a memory unit and a computing unit. By convention, however, experts have chosen 1932 as the theoretical year that started the history of the computer and the concept of the computer we have today. Precisely in this year modern technology took its first steps, giving the scientific world, and only later to the masses, that first computer with functions and dimensions very different from those we usually know.

The ancestor of modern computers was in fact gigantic and known by the nice name of Memex , born with the intention of making available to man the possibility of recording all his literary works, thoughts and notes in a single mammoth archive.

The project is due to Vanner Bush and his talented team of researchers, who have provided us with a first example of operation very similar to that of a modern hard disk, which requires data to be entered in the form of magnetic pulses and then read. through special heads. Of course the functions of Memex were absolutely basic, but for its really impressive times.

Times when, moreover, one of the bloodiest global conflicts ever appeared on the horizon: the Second World War . Precisely in this period, in the wake of the innovation impressed by Memex and with the inevitable battle approaching, the inventions designed for the militia multiply , as technological accessories to favor the espionage and radio interception of the enemy. The war context therefore saw the first real computer called La bomba come to light about 6 years after the invention of Memex .

The invention is attributed to Marian Rejewsky , a Polish engineer who immediately made his device a perfect military tool for espionage. The bomb, in fact, proposed itself as a natural antagonist of the German Enigma, precisely to decipher the coded messages that the Nazi army used to send itself.

When the first personal computer was born

If in 1932 Vanner Bush’s Memex gave the impetus for the creation of the first computer in history and for what would only later become the World Wide Web, it was in 1938 that the invention of the first modern computer made its way . to the scientist Konrad Zuse . His Z1 of him, this is the name, presented itself as a real masterpiece of technology, the first fully programmable computer based on the binary system with implementation of electromechanical memories and relays.

The Z1 could only perform one operation per second, with its computation speed set to a single HZ. In 1939, Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford E. Berry of Iowa State University built the Atanasoff Berry Computer, commonly known as ABC, the first fully electronic digital computer .

The ABC represents one of the greatest steps forward in the history of computers, going all by itself to introduce binary numbers into a digital computer and their management, parallel computing, regenerative memories and a separation between data and instructions.

Only six years later a new car managed to outdo the racetrack beauties put together by Zuse, Atanasoff and Berry. The reference goes to Colossus , created in 1945 in the Bletchley Park neighborhoods in London, also in this case with purely military purposes. Taking up and improving the idea behind Memex, the Colossus could capture , decipher , interpret and translate into human language all the signals that came from the enemy army led by Hitler.

All enclosed in a cabin almost the size of an entire apartment, which hid hundreds of valves and conductor wires from view, which we can consider as predecessors of the current microprocessors and so-called printed boards.

Colossus was shaped by the genius of the British mathematician Alan Turing , who designed it to help the Allies against the power of the Third Reich. The operator assigned to the machine thus had the opportunity to read the decrypted codes in real time and to intervene on the same machine to translate them into an understandable language.

To do this, it took several hours, or even a few days !, using strings in the form of calculations to be deciphered with elaborate mathematical algorithms. This first “tube” computer was considered so important and secret that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after the end of the Second World War, had it destroyed. On the whole operation he imposed the state secrecy, even burning the construction projects.

Only in the nineties, following the declassification of the related documents, was it known of its existence. At least 14 million people were saved thanks to Turing , who with his invention shortened the duration of the conflict by at least two years. Of course, we are still a long way from modeling the first personal computer, but these are discoveries to which the PC of our times owes a lot.

From the first computer to modern technology

At this point in the history of the computer, you will have understood that its birth and creation is not due to a single man, but to a set of events that have defined its shape, structure and functions over time. So much so that we cannot strictly speak of a real first computer . In the postwar years, with the military field now set aside, new technologies were made available to industrial companies, leading to the design and release of increasingly advanced and improved computers.

And ever closer to what current computers are. Only the Cold War period brought computers and technology more generally into the field again for espionage purposes, with the militia very often providing the impetus for technological advancement, supporting inventions and related costs. Suffice it to say that the Internet itself was born with military purposes , and only later was it made available to the entire population for all those varied uses that we know today, and which we can no longer do without.

In the mid-1970s, key figures in computer literacy entered the scene, namely Bill Gates and Steve Jobs , founders of the giants Microsoft and Apple respectively. And “fathers” of modern home computers. But it is only in 1984 that the apple company goes to produce the second evolutionary step that leads to the current personal computers, biting into the market with the Macintosh .

A tool, this, as elegant in design as in the approach to the graphic interface. The Macintosh achieved unprecedented market success, thanks to its friendly, user-friendly approach , and the obvious ease of use of its operating system, the macOS. The answer then came from Microsoft, which took its cue from the worldwide success of the Macintosh to rework many of its innovative features in the creation of its Windows operating system, sparking a legal battle that lasted over a decade.

In the meantime, the Amiga and Commodore were carving out their own gigantic spaces in an increasingly flourishing and constantly growing market. These are, broadly speaking, the historical steps that have led to modern computers from that first computer that operated on valves. And that have shaped entire generations of experts, scholars and simple technology enthusiasts.

Those efforts of out-of-the-ordinary minds will forever remain a fundamental piece for human progress , as well as for the emergence of a society increasingly anchored and “dependent” on hi-tech . Everything is now available and manageable on the network, operated behind the scenes by powerful computers that are gradually smaller, more compact and with an attractive design.

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