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Timeline of the History of Computers

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c. 2500 BC – Sumerian Abacus

c. 700 BC – Scytale

c. 150 BC – Antikythera Mechanism

c. 60 – Programmable Robot

c. 850 – On Deciphering Cryptographic Messages

c. 1470 – Cipher Disk

1613 – First Recorded Use of the Word Computer

1621 – Slide Rule

1703 – Binary Arithmetic

1758 – Human Computers Predict Halley’s Comet

1770 – The “Mechanical Turk”

1792 – Optical Telegraph

1801 – The Jacquard Loom

1822 – The Difference Engine

1833 – Michael Faraday discovered silver sulfide became a better conductor when heated

1836 – Electrical Telegraph

1843 – Ada Lovelace Writes a Computer Program

1843 – Fax Machine Patented

1843 – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”

1849 to early 1900s – Silicon Valley After the Gold Rush

1851 – Thomas Arithmometer

1854 – Boolean Algebra

1864 – First Electromagnetic Spam Message

1870 – Mitsubishi founded

1874 – Baudot Code

1874 – Semiconductor Diode conceived of

1876 – Ericsson Corporation founded in Sweden

1885 – Stanford University

1885 – William Burroughs’ adding machine

1890 – Herman Hollerith Tabulating the US Census

1890 – Toshiba founded in Japan

1891 – Strowger Step-by-Step Switch

1898 – Nippon Electric Limited Partnership – NEC Corporation founded in Japan

1890s to 1930s – Radio Engineering

Early 1900s – Electrical Engineering

1904 – “Diode” or Two-Element Amplifier actually invented

1904 – Three-Element Amplifier or “Triode”

1906 – Vacuum Tube or “Audion”

1907 – Lee DeForest coins the term “radio” to refer to wireless transmission when he formed his DeForest Radio Telephone Company

1909 – Charles Herrold in San Jose started first radio station in USA with regularly scheduled programming, including songs, using an arc transmitter of his own design. Herrold was one of Stanford’s earliest students and founded his own College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose

1910 – Radio Broadcasting business pioneered by Lee DeForest with broadcast from New York of a live performance by Italian tenor Enrico Caruso

1910 – Hitachi founded in Japan

1912 – Sharp Corporation founded in Japan and takes its name from one of its founder’s first inventions, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil

1914 – Floating-Point Numbers

1917 – Vernam Cipher

1918 – Panasonic, then Matsushita Electric, founded in Japan

1920 – Rossum’s Universal Robots

1927 – Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

1927 – First LED

1928 – Electronic Speech Synthesis

1930 – The Enigma Machine

1931 – Differential Analyzer

1935 – Fujitsu founded as Fuji Telecommunications Equipment Manufacturing in Japan. Fujitsu is the second oldest IT company after IBM and before Hewlett-Packard

1936 – Church-Turing Thesis

1939 – Hewlett-Packard founded in a one-car garage in Palo Alto, California by Bill Hewlett and David Packard

1939 – Toshiba founded in Japan

1941Z3 Computer

1942Atanasoff-Berry Computer

1942 – Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

1942Seiko Corporation founded in Japan



1944Delay Line Memory

1944Binary-Coded Decimal

1945Vannevar Bush‘s “As We May Think

1945EDVAC First Draft Report – The von Neumann architecture

1946 – Trackball

1946 – Williams Tube Random Access Memory

1947 – Actual Bug Found – First “debugging”

1947 – William Shockley’s Silicon Transistor

1948 – The Bit – Binary Digit 0 or 1

1948 – Curta Calculator

1948 – Manchester SSEM

1949 – Whirlwind Computer

1950 – Error-Correcting Codes (ECC)

1951 – Turing Test of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

1951 – Magnetic Tape Used for Computers

1951 – Core Memory

1951 – Microprogramming

1952 – Computer Speech Recognition

1953 – First Transistorized Computer

1955 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) Coined

1955 – Computer Proves Mathematical Theorem

1956 – First Disk Storage Unit

1956 – The Byte

1956 – Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet

1957 – FORTRAN Programming Language

1957 – First Digital Image

1958 – The Bell 101 Modem

1958 – SAGE Computer Operational

1959 – IBM 1401 Computer

1959 – DEC PDP-1

1959 – Quicksort Algorithm

1959 – SABRE Airline Reservation System

1960 – COBOL Programming Language

1960 – Recommended Standard 232 (RS-232)

1961 – ANITA Electronic Calculator

1961 – Unimate – First Mass-Produced Robot

1961 – Time-Sharing – The Original “Cloud Computing

1961 – Shinshu Seiki Company founded in Japan (now called Seiko Epson Corporation) as a subsidiary of Seiko to supply precision parts for Seiko watches.

1962 – Spacewar! Video Game

1962 – Virtual Memory

1962 – Digital Long Distance Telephone Calls

1963 – Sketchpad Interactive Computer Graphics

1963 – ASCII Character Encoding

1963 – Seiko Corporation in Japan developed world’s first portable quartz timer (Seiko QC-951)

1964 – RAND Tablet Computer

1964 – Teletype Model 33 ASR

1964 – IBM System/360 Mainframe Computer

1964 – BASIC Programming Language

1965 – First Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD)

1965 – Fiber Optics – Optical-Fiber

1965 – DENDRAL Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Project

1965 – ELIZA – The First “Chatbot” – 1965

1965 – Touchscreen

1966 – Star Trek Premieres

1966 – Dynamic RAM

1966 – Linear predictive coding (LPC) proposed by Fumitada Itakura of Nagoya University and Shuzo Saito of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT).[71]

1967 – Object-Oriented Programming

1967 – First ATM Machine

1967 – Head-Mounted Display

1967 – Programming for Children

1967 – The Mouse

1968 – Carterfone Decision

1968 – Software Engineering

1968 – HAL 9000 Computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey

1968 – First “Spacecraft” “Guided by Computer”

1968 – Cyberspace Coined—and Re-Coined

1968 – Mother of All Demos

1968 – Dot Matrix Printer – Shinshu Seiki (now called Seiko Epson Corporation) launched the world’s first mini-printer, the EP-101 (“EP” for Electronic Printer,) which was soon incorporated into many calculators

1968 – Interface Message Processor (IMP)

1969 – ARPANET / Internet

1969 – Digital Imaging

1969 – Network Working Group Request for Comments (RFC): 1

1969 – Utility Computing – Early “Cloud Computing

1969 – Perceptrons Book – Dark Ages of Neural Networks Artificial Intelligence (AI)

1969 – UNIX Operating System

1969 – Seiko Epson Corporation in Japan developed world’s first quartz watch timepiece (Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ)

1970 – Fair Credit Reporting Act

1970 – Relational Databases

1970 – Floppy Disk

1971 – Laser Printer

1971 – NP-Completeness

1971 – @Mail Electronic Mail

1971 – First Microprocessor – General-Purpose CPU – “Computer on a Chip”

1971 – First Wireless Network

1972 – C Programming Language

1972 – Cray Research Supercomputers – High-Performance Computing (HPC)

1972 – Game of Life – Early Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research

1972 – HP-35 Calculator

1972 – Pong Game from Atari – Nolan Bushnell

1973 – First Cell Phone Call

1973 – Danny Cohen first demonstrated a form of packet voice as part of a flight simulator application, which operated across the early ARPANET.[69][70]

1973 – Xerox Alto from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

1973 – Sharp Corporation produced the first LCD calculator

1974 – Data Encryption Standard (DES)

1974 – The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publishes a paper entitled “A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection”.[82]

1974 – Network Voice Protocol (NVP) tested over ARPANET in August 1974, carrying barely audible 16 kpbs CVSD encoded voice.[71]

1974 – The first successful real-time conversation over ARPANET achieved using 2.4 kpbs LPC, between Culler-Harrison Incorporated in Goleta, California, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts.[71]

1974 – First Personal Computer: The Altair 8800 Invented by MITS in Albuquerque, New Mexico

1975 – Colossal Cave Adventure – Text-based “Video” Game

1975 – The Shockwave Rider SciFi Book – A Prelude of the 21st Century Big Tech Police State

1975 – AI Medical Diagnosis – Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

1975 – BYTE Magazine

1975 – Homebrew Computer Club

1975 – The Mythical Man-Month

1975 – The name Epson was coined for the next generation of printers based on the EP-101 which was released to the public. (EPSON:E-P-SON: SON of Electronic Printer).[7] Epson America Inc. was established to sell printers for Shinshu Seiki Co.

1976 – Public Key Cryptography

1976 – Acer founded

1976 – Tandem NonStop

1976 – Dr. Dobb’s Journal

1977 – RSA Encryption

1977 – Apple II Computer

The TRS-80 Model I pictured alongside the Apple II and the Commodore PET 2001-8. These three computers constitute what Byte Magazine called the “1977 Trinity” of home computing.

1977 – Danny Cohen and Jon Postel of the USC Information Sciences Institute, and Vint Cerf of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), agree to separate IP from TCP, and create UDP for carrying real-time traffic.

1978 – First Internet Spam Message

1978 – France’s Minitel Videotext

1979 – Secret Sharing for Encryption

1979 – Dan Bricklin Invents VisiCalc Spreadsheet

1980 – Timex Sinclair ZX80 Computer

1980 – Flash Memory

1980 – RISC Microprocessors – Reduced Instruction Set Computer CPUs

1980 – Commercially Available Ethernet Invented by Robert Metcalfe of 3Com

1980 – Usenet

1981 – IBM Personal Computer – IBM PC

1981 – Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) Email

1981 – Japan’s Fifth Generation Computer SystemsJapan

1982 – Sun Microsystems was founded on February 24, 1982.[2]

1982 – AutoCAD

1982 – First Commercial UNIX Workstation

1982 – PostScript

1982 – Microsoft and the IBM PC Clones

1982 – First CGI Sequence in Feature Film – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

1982 – National Geographic Moves the Pyramids – Precursor to Photoshop

1982 – Secure Multi-Party Computation

1982 – TRON Movie

1982 – Home Computer Named Machine of the Year by Time Magazine

1983 – The Qubit – Quantum Computers

1983 – WarGames

1983 – 3-D Printing

1983 – Computerization of the Local Telephone Network

1983 – First Laptop

1983 – MIDI Computer Music Interface

1983 – Microsoft Word

1983 – Nintendo Entertainment System – Video Games

1983 – Domain Name System (DNS)

1983 – IPv4 Flag Day – TCP/IP

1984 – Text-to-Speech (TTS)

1984 – Apple Macintosh

1984 – VPL Research, Inc. – Virtual Reality (VR)

1984 – Quantum Cryptography

1984 – Telebit TrailBlazer Modems Break 9600 bps

1984 – Verilog Language

1984 – Dell founded by Michael Dell

1984 – Cisco Systems was founded in December 1984

1985 – Connection Machine – Parallelization

1985 – First Computer-Generated TV Host – Max HeadroomCGI

1985 – Zero-Knowledge Mathematical Proofs

1985 – FCC Approves Unlicensed Wireless Spread Spectrum

1985 – NSFNET National Science Foundation “Internet”

1985 – Desktop Publishing – with Macintosh, Aldus PageMaker, LaserJet, LaserWriter and PostScript

1985 – Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA)

1985 – GNU Manifesto from Richard Stallman

1985 – AFIS Stops a Serial Killer – Automated Fingerprint Identification System

1986 – Software Bug Fatalities

1986 – Pixar Animation Studios

1986 – D-Link Corporation founded in Taipei, Taiwan

1987 – Digital Video Editing

1987 – GIF – Graphics Interchange Format

1988 – MPEG – Moving Picture Experts Group – Coding-Compressing Audio-Video

1988 – CD-ROM

1988 – Morris Worm Internet Computer Virus

1988 – Linksys founded

1989 – World Wide Web-HTML-HTTP Invented by Tim Berners-Lee

1989 – Asus was founded in Taipei, Taiwan

1989 – SimCity Video Game

1989 – ISP Provides Internet Access to the Public

1990 – GPS Is Operational – Global Positioning System

1990 – Digital Money is Invented – DigiCash – Precursor to Bitcoin

1991 – Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)

1991 – DARPA’s Report “Computers at Risk: Safe Computing in the Information Age

1991 – Linux Kernel Operating System Invented by Linus Torvalds

1992 – Boston Dynamics Robotics Company Founded

1992 – JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group

1992 – First Mass-Market Web Browser NCSA Mosaic Invented by Marc Andreessen

1992 – Unicode Character Encoding

1993 – Apple Newton

1994 – First Banner Ad – Wired Magazine

1994 – RSA-129 Encryption Cracked

1995 – DVD

1995 – E-Commerce Startups – eBay, Amazon and DoubleClick Launched

1995 – AltaVista Web Search Engine

1995 – Gartner Hype Cycle

1996 – Universal Serial Bus (USB)

1996 – Juniper Networks founded

1997 – IBM Computer Is World Chess Champion

1997 – PalmPilot

1997 – E Ink

1998 – Diamond Rio MP3 Player

1998 – Google

1999 – Collaborative Software Development

1999 – Blog Is Coined

1999 – Napster P2P Music and File Sharing

2000 – USB Flash Drive

2000 – Sharp Corporation’s Mobile Communications Division created the world’s first commercial camera phone, the J-SH04, in Japan

2000 – Fortinet founded

2001 – Wikipedia

2001 – Apple iTunes

2001 – Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

2001 – Quantum Computer Factors “15”

2002 – Home-Cleaning Robot

2003 – CAPTCHA

2004 – Product Tracking

2004 – Facebook

2004 – First International Meeting on Synthetic Biology

2005 – Video Game Enables Research into Real-World Pandemics

2006 – Apache Hadoop Makes Big Data Possible

2006 – Differential Privacy

2007 – Apple iPhone

2008 – Bitcoin

2010 – Air Force Builds Supercomputer with Gaming Consoles

2010 – Cyber Weapons

2011 – Smart Homes via the Internet of Things (IoT)

2011 – IBM Watson Wins Jeopardy!

2011 – World IPv6 Day

2011 – Social Media Enables the Arab Spring

2012 – DNA Data Storage

2013 – Algorithm Influences Prison Sentence

2013 – Subscription Software “Popularized”

2014 – Data Breaches

2014 – Over-the-Air Vehicle Software Updates

2015 – Google Releases TensorFlow

2016 – Augmented Reality Goes Mainstream

2016 – Computer Beats Master at Game of Go

~2050 -Hahahaha! – Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

~9999 – The Limits of Computation?


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Radio Engineering – 1890s to 1930s AD

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Radio Engineering

“At the same time, San Francisco’s inhabitants showed a voracious interest in the radio technology invented in Europe at the turn of the century. The Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, then in Britain, had galvanized the sector with his long-distance radio transmissions, beginning in 1897 and culminating with the radio message from the US President Theodore Roosevelt to the British king Edward VII of 1903. Marconi’s company set up radio stations on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate with ships at sea. However, it was not yet trivial how to create a wireless communication system.”

“In 1906 an independent with a degree from Yale, Lee DeForest, had built a vacuum tube in New York without quite understanding its potential as a signal amplifier. In fact his invention, the “audion”, was useful to amplify electrical signals, and therefore to wireless transmissions. (In 1904 the British chemist John-Ambrose Fleming had invented the two-element amplifier, or “diode”, and a few months before DeForest the Austrian physicist Robert von Lieben had already built a three-element amplifier, or “triode”). In 1910 DeForest moved to San Francisco and got into radio broadcasting, a business that he had pioneered in January when he had broadcast from New York a live performance by legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. In fact, DeForest is the one who started using the term “radio” to refer to wireless transmission when he formed his DeForest Radio Telephone Company in 1907. However, his early broadcasts did not use the audion yet. Interest in radio broadcasting was high in the Bay Area, even if there were no mass-produced radios yet. A year earlier, in 1909, Charles Herrold in San Jose had started the first radio station in the US with regularly scheduled programming, including songs, using an arc transmitter of his own design. Charles Herrold had been one of Stanford’s earliest students and founded his own College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose.

The Bay Area stumbled into electronics almost by accident. In 1909 another Stanford alumnus, Cyril Elwell, had founded the Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company in Palo Alto, later renamed the Federal Telegraph Corporation (FTC), to commercialize a new European invention. In 1903 the Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen invented an arc transmitter for radio transmission, but no European company was doing anything with it. Elwell understood its potential was not only technological but also legal: it allowed him to create radio products without violating Marconi’s patents. Elwell acquired the US rights for the Poulsen arc. His radio technology, adequately funded by a group of San Francisco investors led by Beach Thompson, blew away the competition of the East Coast. In 1912 he won a contract with the Navy, which was by far the biggest consumer of radio communications. Thus commercial radiotelegraphy developed first in the US. The “startup” was initially funded by Stanford’s own President, David Starr Jordan, and employed Stanford students, notably Edwin Pridham. Jordan had just inaugurated venture-capital investment in the region.

In need of better receiver amplifiers for the arc transmissions, FTC hired Lee DeForest, who by 1912 had finally realized that his audion could be used as an amplifier. The problem with long-distance telephone and radio transmissions was that the signal was lost en route as it became too faint. DeForest’s vacuum tube enabled the construction of repeaters that restored the signal at intermediate points. The audion could dramatically reduce the cost of long-distance wireless communications. FTC began applying the audion to develop a geographically distributed radiotelegraphy system. The first tower they had built, in July 1910, was on a San Francisco beach and it was 90 meters tall. Yet the most impressive of all was inaugurated in 1912 at Point San Bruno (just south of the city), a large complex boasting the tallest antenna in the world (130 meters).

By the end of 1912 FTC had grown; it had stations in Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, Missouri and Washington besides California. However, the Poulsen arc remained the main technology for radiotelephony (voice transmission) and, ironically, FTC was no longer in that business. Improvements to the design by recent Cornell graduate Leonard Fuller (mostly during World War I, when the radio industry was nationalized to produce transmitters for the Navy) that allowed the audion to amplify a signal a million times eventually led FTC to create the first global wireless communication system. The audion was still used only for receivers, while most transmitters were arc-based. It was only in 1915 that DeForest realized that a feedback loop of audions could be used to build transmitters as well. DeForest had already (in 1913) sold the patent for his audion to Graham Bell’s AT&T in New York, and AT&T had already used it to set up the first coast-to-coast telephone line (January 1915), just in time for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Meanwhile, DeForest had moved to New York. There, in 1916, he stunned the nation by broadcasting the results of the presidential elections with music and commentary from New York to stations within a range of 300 kilometers, and this time using an audion transmitter. Radiotelephony would switch from the Poulsen arc to his audion during the 1920s. In due time Leo Fuller took Elwell’s place as chief engineer of FTC, and in 1920 Navy engineer and former Marconi engineer Haraden Pratt was hired to launch commercial wireless telegraph service, and sugar magnate Rudolph Spreckels bought control of FTC.

The wireless industry was booming throughout the US, aided by sensational articles in the mainstream press. Earle Ennis had opened a company (Western Wireless Equipment Company) to sell wireless equipment for ships. He also ran a radio broadcast to deliver news to ships at sea. In 1910 he organized the first air-to-ground radio message, thus showing that the same technology could be used by the nascent airline industry.

Because of its maritime business, the Bay Area became one of the largest centers for amateur radio. The Bay Counties Wireless Telegraph Association was founded in 1907 by (then) amateurs such as Haraden Pratt, Ellery Stone and Lewis Clement.

Quite a bit of innovation in radio engineering came from the “ham” radio amateurs. The first wireless communications were, by definition, done by independents who set up their own equipment. This was the first “virtual” community as they frequently never met in person. The first magazine devoted to radio engineering, Modern Electrics, was launched in April 1908 in New York by Hugo Gernsback, a 24-year-old Jewish immigrant from Luxembourg. It reached a circulation of 52,000 in 1911, the year when it started publishing science-fiction stories (thus also becoming de facto the first science-fiction magazine). Amateur wireless associations popped up throughout the country, such as the Radio Club of Salt Lake City in Utah, founded in September 1909, and the Wireless Association of Central California, formed in May 1910 in Fresno. From a social point of view, the beauty of ham radio was that it blurred class boundaries: they were known by codes such as 6ZAF, not by their last names, and it made no difference whether they were rural teenagers, Stanford PhD students or professional radio engineers. They were all on the same level.

Among the amateurs of the second decade were Charlie Litton, an eleven-year old prodigy who operated an amateur station in Redwood City in 1915, and Frederick Terman, a teenager who operated an amateur station in Palo Alto in 1917. Some of those amateurs went on to create small companies. Little did they know that their hobby would in time of war constitute a strategic industry for the Air Force, Navy and Army: during World War I (in 1918) Elwell’s technology would be a pillar of naval communications for the US. The Navy had set up radio stations all over the place. In January 1918 the President of the US, Woodrow Wilson, proudly spoke live to Europe, the Far East and Latin America.

Magnavox Corp. was founded in 1910 in Napa (north of the bay). It was the brainchild of Peter Jensen (one of the Danish engineers imported by FTC to commercialize the Poulsen arc) and Edwin Pridham (a Stanford graduate who also worked at FTC). In 1917 they introduced a new type of electrical loudspeaker.

Alas, after World War I it became obvious that radio technology was strategic, and it couldn’t be left in the hands of West-Coast independents. The US government basically forced a large East-Coast company, General Electric, to buy the US business of Marconi. The US government also helped the new company to acquire the most important radio patents. Thus a new giant, RCA, was born and soon became the dominant player in consumer electronics, as the number of radios grew from 5,000 in 1920 to 25 million in 1924. Hence FTC was doomed and other Bay Area-based radio companies had to live with only military applications.

Ham-radio amateurs were the first “garage nerds” of the San Francisco Bay Area, a place isolated from the rest of the country (reaching any other city required a long journey by ship, by train or by coach). Bill Eitel presided the Santa Clara County Amateur Radio Association, formed in 1921, before he went on to launch his own “startup”. The First National Radio Conference took place in Washington in February 1922, and it pitted the five big corporations that owned all the patents (American Telephone & Telegraph, General Electric, Western Electric, Westinghouse and RCA) against the ham-radio amateur clubs. That conference established their legal legitimacy. A few weeks later, in April 1922, the first transpacific two-way amateur communication was established between 6ZAC (Clifford Down) in Hawaii and 6ZAF (A.H. Babcock) in Berkeley. The ham-radio operators became heroes in countless cases of natural disasters, especially in the Western states, at a time when there was no other way to communicate rapidly with the aid workers. A teenager, known as 6BYQ, sent out the first alarm when a dam broke in 1928 in Santa Paula, near Los Angeles, causing a flood that caused massive destruction. Ham-radios helped in September 1932 when a landslide wiped out the mining town of Tehachapi, east of Los Angeles, and in March 1933 when an earthquake struck Long Beach, south of Los Angeles. Ham-radios were the first “consumers” of the vacuum tubes made in the Bay Area.

Radio engineering created two worlds in the Bay Area that would greatly influence its future: a high-tech industry and a community of high-tech amateurs.

SEE ALSO: Electrical Engineering – Early 1900s

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Data Science - Big Data History Software Engineering

SQL Relational Database Programming Language Invented by Edgar Codd of IBM – 1974 AD

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SQL is a relational database programming language and was developed by Edgar Codd in 1974 and is still important in the programming language world.

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See also: Relational Databases (1970 AD), Microsoft SQL Server (1989)

History Software Engineering

First Transistorized Computer – 1953 AD

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First Transistorized Computer

Tom Kilburn (1921–2001), Richard Grimsdale (1929–2005), Douglas Webb (b. 1929), Jean H. Felker (1919–1994)

“With the invention of the transistor in 1947, the next step was to use it as a replacement for the vacuum tube. Tubes had a significant advantage compared to relays—they were a thousand times faster—but tubes required an inordinate amount of electricity, produced huge amounts of heat, and failed constantly. Transistors used a fraction of the power, produced practically no heat at all, and were more reliable than tubes. And because transistors were smaller than tubes, a transistorized machine would run inherently faster, because electrons had a shorter distance to move.

The University of Manchester demonstrated its prototype transistorized computer on November 16, 1953. The machine made use of the “point-contact” transistor, a piece of germanium that was in contact with two wires held in very close proximity to each other—the two “points.” The Manchester machine had 92 point-contact transistors and 550 diodes. The system had a word size of 48 bits. (Many of today’s microprocessors can operate on words that are 8, 16, 32, or 64 bits.) A few months later, Jean H. Felker at Bell Labs created the TRADIC (transistor digital computer) for the US Air Force, with 700 point-contact transistors and more than 10,000 diodes.

This point-contact transistor was soon replaced by the bipolar junction transistor, so named because it is formed by a junction involving two kinds of semiconductors. Manchester updated its prototype in 1955 with a new design that used 250 of these junction transistors. Called the Metrovick 950, that computer was manufactured by Metropolitan-Vickers, a British electrical engineering company.

In 1956, the Advanced Development Group at MIT Lincoln Lab used more than 3,000 transistors to build the TX-0 (Transistorized eXperimental computer zero), a transistorized version of the Whirlwind and the forerunner to Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) PDP-1.”

SEE ALSO William Shockley’s Silicon Transistor (1947), Whirlwind (1949), PDP-1 (1959)

Close-up of the prototype of the Manchester transistorized computer.

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History Software Engineering

Microprogramming – 1951 AD

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Maurice Wilkes (1913–2010)

“By 1951, the basic structure of stored-program computers had been worked out: a central processing unit (CPU) that had registers for storing numbers, an arithmetic logic unit (ALU) for performing mathematical operations, and logic for moving data between the CPU and memory. But the internal design of these early CPUs was a mess. Each instruction was implemented with a different set of wires and circuits, some with components in common, and others with their own individual logic.

British computer scientist Maurice Wilkes realized that the design of the CPU could be made more regular after seeing the design of the Whirlwind, which was controlled by a crisscrossing matrix of wires. Some of the wires connected by a diode where they crossed. Voltage was applied to each horizontal wire in sequence. If a diode was present, the corresponding vertical wire would be energized and activate different parts of the CPU.

Wilkes realized that each line of the diode matrix in the Whirlwind could be viewed as a set of microoperations that the CPU followed, a kind of “microprogram.” He formalized this idea in a lecture at the 1951 Manchester University Computer Inaugural Conference, immodestly titled “The Best Way to Design an Automatic Calculating Machine.” In the lecture, later published by the university, Wilkes proposed that his idea might seem at once obvious, because it described nothing more than a formalized way of creating a CPU using the same basic wires, diodes, and electronic switches that were already in use, as well as extravagant, because it might use more components than would be used otherwise. But, Wilkes argued, it resulted in a system that was easier to design, test, and extend.

Wilkes was right. Microprogramming dramatically simplified the creation of CPUs, allowing instruction sets to become more complex. It also created unexpected flexibility: when IBM released System/360 in 1964, its engineers used microprogramming to allow the new computers to emulate the instructions of the IBM 1401, making it easier for customers to make the transition.”

SEE ALSO Whirlwind (1949), IBM 1401 (1959), IBM System/360 (1964)

“Maurice Wilkes (front left), designer of the EDSAC, one of the earliest stored-program electronic computers.”

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History Software Engineering

Manchester SSEM – 1948 AD

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Manchester SSEM

Frederic Calland Williams (1911–1977), Tom Kilburn (1921–2001)

“The defining characteristic of the digital computer is that it stores both program and data in a single memory bank. In a modern computer, this arrangement lets one program load a second program into memory and execute it. On the limited-memory machines of the 1950s, intermixing programs and code made it possible to squeeze out more functionality by writing programs that literally modified themselves, now called self-modifying code. Modern computers use this ability to load code into the computer’s memory and execute it—the fundamental capability that makes a computer a general-purpose machine. But none of the machines built before the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) were actually digital computers, at least not in the modern sense. Either they were hardwired to perform a particular calculation, like the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, they read their instructions from some kind of punched tape, like the Konrad Zuse machines, or the program was set on wires and switches, like ENIAC. They were really calculators, not computers.

The SSEM, nicknamed Baby by its creators at the University of Manchester, was built for testing and demonstrating the storage tube that Frederic Williams had designedWilliams Tube Random Access Memory (RAM) – 1946 A.D. in 1946. Baby filled a 20-foot-square room and consisted of eight racks of equipment, the Williams storage tube, many radio tubes, and meters that reported voltages. Each tube had 1,024 bits. As the program ran and changed what was stored in its memory, the arrangement of dots on the storage tube changed.

Because the program was stored in memory, and relied on self-modifying code, it was easy for Kilburn to make changes. The first program that Baby successfully ran, written by Kilburn, was designed to find the highest factor of 218 (262,144). The program ran in 52 minutes and found the right answer: 217 (131,072), averaging 1.5 milliseconds per instruction. The original program was just 17 instructions long.

Arriving at the correct answer was no easy feat. As Williams reportedly stated, “The spots on the display tube entered a mad dance. In early trials, it was a dance of death leading to no useful result . . . But one day it stopped, and there, shining brightly in the expected place, was the expected answer.””

SEE ALSO Z3 Computer (1941), Atanasoff-Berry Computer (1942), Williams Tube (1946)

“Recreation of the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (a.k.a., the Manchester “Baby”) at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, UK.”

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History Software Engineering

Williams Tube Random Access Memory (RAM) – 1946 A.D.

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Williams Tube

Frederic Calland Williams (1911–1977), Tom Kilburn (1921–2001)

“The Williams tube (sometimes known as the William–Kilburn tube), was the first all-electronic memory system, and the first that provided for random access, meaning that any location of memory could be accessed in any order.

The tube was a cathode-ray tube, such as what might be used in a World War II radar display, but modified so that dots displayed on the screen could be read by a computer. The early Williams tubes stored data one binary digit—a 0 or a 1—at a time in a rectangular array, typically 64 by 32. Developed at the University of Manchester by Frederic Williams and Tom Kilburn, the tubes were superior to the mercury delay line memory that had been used on the EDSAC and UNIVAC computers, because any bit could be accessed instantly. The bits in the delay lines, in contrast, could be read only when they had progressed through the mercury to the end of the line. But both the Williams tube and the mercury delay lines shared the property that they needed to be continually refreshed, much as do modern dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips. Because the bits consist of stored energy that can dissipate, each bit must be continually read and then rewritten.

The IBM 701 computer used 72 Williams tubes to store 2,048 36-bit words; this electronic memory was supplemented with a spinning magnetic drum that could hold roughly four times as much memory but was much slower to access. The Williams tubes were not terribly reliable, though, and the 701 would reportedly run for only 15 minutes before it would crash due to a memory error. Indeed, the tubes were so unreliable that the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, was built specifically for the purpose of testing Williams tubes.

The MIT Whirlwind computer, first operational in 1949, was originally designed to use a modified Williams tube that dispensed with the need to refresh by using a second electron gun called a flood gun; the same approach would be used nearly three decades later in storage-tube displays, such as graphics terminals and oscilloscopes used in electronics labs to monitor circuits. But the modified Williams tubes cost $1,000 each and had a lifetime of roughly one month. Beset with the problems caused by these storage tubes, Whirlwind’s director, Jay Forrester (1918–2016), invented core memory as a replacement.”

SEE ALSO Delay Line Memory (1944), Manchester SSEM (1948), Core Memory (1951)

This close-up view, c. 1948, reveals dots (1s) and spaces (0s) on the face of a tube.

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Trackball – 1946 A.D.

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Ralph Benjamin (b. 1922), Kenyon Taylor (1908–1986), Tom Cranston (c. 1920–2008), Fred Longstaff (dates unavailable)

“The trackball was one of the first computer input devices to enable freeform cursor movement by the user, simultaneously over both the x- and y-axes on a computer screen. But there was a long time between its invention and its widespread use.

A British engineer named Ralph Benjamin designed the first prototype trackball while working on a radar project for the Royal Navy Scientific Service in 1946. The radar project was called the Comprehensive Display System and enabled ships to monitor low-flying aircraft on X and Y coordinates using a joystick as the input device. Benjamin tried to improve upon this method of input with an invention he called the roller ball, which consisted of a metal casing containing a metal ball with two rubber wheels. It allowed users to control their onscreen movements with greater precision to input location data about a target’s aircraft. The British kept the device a military secret until 1947, when it was patented in Benjamin’s name and described as a device that correlated data between electronic storage and displays.

In 1952, Canadian engineers Tom Cranston, Fred Longstaff, and Kenyon Taylor built upon Benjamin’s concept and designed a trackball for the Royal Canadian Navy’s Digital Automated Tracking and Resolving (DATAR) system, a computerized battlefield information system. The design, based upon the Canadian five-point bowling ball, allowed an operator to control and track the location of user input on the screen.

Benjamin’s roller ball eventually had a large influence on the development of the mouse and the modern trackball. The roller ball differed from the mouse in that it was a stationary object that was controlled by the user’s hand and fingers moving over it, rather than repositioning the entire device to different locations in physical space.”

SEE ALSO The Mouse (1967)

“The first trackball used a Canadian five-pin bowling ball floated on a cushion of air as its input device; the nozzle for the air supply is visible at the lower right.”

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Colossus – 1943 A.D.

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Thomas Harold Flowers (1905–1998), Sidney Broadhurst (1893–1969), W. T. Tutte (1917–2002)

“Colossus was the first electronic digital computing machine, designed and successfully used during World War II by the United Kingdom to crack the German High Command military codes. “Electronic” means that it was built with tubes, which made Colossus run more than 500 times faster than the relay-based computing machines of the day. It was also the first computer to be manufactured in quantity.

A total of 10 “Colossi” were clandestinely built at Bletchley Park, Britain’s ultra-secret World War II cryptanalytic center, between 1943 and 1945 to crack the wireless telegraph signals encrypted with a special system developed by C. Lorenz AG, a German electronics firm. After the war the Colossi were destroyed or dismantled for their parts to protect the secret of the United Kingdom’s cryptanalytic prowess.

Colossus was far more sophisticated than the electromechanical Bombe machines that Alan Turing designed to crack the simpler Enigma cipher used by the Germans for battlefield encryption. Whereas Enigma used between three and eight encrypting rotors to scramble characters, the Lorenz system involved 12 wheels, with each wheel adding more mathematical complexity, and thus required a cipher-cracking machine with considerably more speed and agility.

Electronic tubes provided Colossus with the speed that it required. But that speed meant that Colossus needed a similarly fast input system. It used punched paper tape running at 5,000 characters per second, the tape itself moving at 27 miles per hour. Considerable engineering kept the tape properly tensioned, preventing rips and tears.

The agility was provided by a cryptanalysis technique designed by Alan Turing called Turingery, which inferred the cryptographic pattern of each Lorenz cipher wheel, and a second algorithm. The second algorithm, designed by British mathematician W. T. Tutte, determined the starting position of the wheels, which the Germans changed for each group of messages. The Colossi themselves were operated by a group of cryptanalysts that included 272 women from the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and 27 men.”

SEE ALSO Manchester SSEM (1948)

The Colossus computing machine was used to read Nazi codes at Bletchley Park, England, during World War II.

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Church-Turing Thesis – 1936 A.D.

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Church-Turing Thesis

David Hilbert (1862–1943), Alonzo Church (1903–1995), Alan Turing (1912–1954)

“Computer science theory seeks to answer two fundamental questions about the nature of computers and computation: are there theoretical limits regarding what is possible to compute, and are there practical limits?

American mathematician Alonzo Church and British computer scientist Alan Turing each published an answer to these questions in 1936. They did it by answering a challenge posed by the eminent German mathematician David Hilbert eight years earlier.

Hilbert’s challenge, the Entscheidungsproblem (German for “decision problem”), asked if there was a mathematical procedure—an algorithm—that could be applied to determine if any given mathematical proposition was true or false. Hilbert had essentially asked if the core work of mathematics, the proving of theorems, could be automated.

Church answered Hilbert by developing a new way of describing mathematical functions and number theory called the Lambda calculus. With it, he showed that the Entscheidungsproblem could not be solved in general: there was no general algorithmic procedure for proving or disproving theorems. He published his paper in April 1936.

Turing took a radically different approach: he created a mathematical definition of a simple, abstract machine that could perform computation. Turing then showed that such a machine could in principle perform any computation and run any algorithm—it could even simulate the operation of other machines. Finally, he showed that while such machines could compute almost anything, there was no way to know if a computation would eventually complete, or if it would continue forever. Thus, the Entscheidungsproblem was unsolvable.

Turing went to Princeton University in September 1936 to study with Church, where the two discovered that the radically different approaches were, in fact, mathematically equivalent. Turing’s paper was published in November 1936; he stayed on and completed his PhD in June 1938, with Church as his PhD advisor.”

SEE ALSO Colossus (1943), EDVAC First Draft Report (1945), NP-Completeness (1971)

Statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, the center of Britain’s codebreaking operations during World War II.

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Semiconductor Diode – 1874 A.D.

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Semiconductor Diode

Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850–1918)

“Semiconductors are curious devices: not quite conductors like copper, gold, or silver, not quite insulators like plastic or rubber. In 1833, Michael Faraday discovered that the chemical silver sulfide became a better conductor when heated, unlike metals that lose their conductivity under the same conditions. Separately, in 1874, Karl Ferdinand Braun, a 24-year-old German physicist, discovered that a metal sulfide crystal touched with a metal probe would conduct electricity in only one direction. This “one direction” characteristic is what defines diodes or rectifiers, the simplest electronic components.”

“In 1904 the British chemist John-Ambrose Fleming had invented the two-element amplifier, or ‘diode’, and a few months before DeForest the Austrian physicist Robert von Lieben had already built a three-element amplifier, or triode.” (Fair Use: B07XVF5RSP)

“Braun’s discovery was a curiosity until the invention of radio. The diode proved critical in allowing radio to make the transition from wireless telegraphy to the transmission and reception of the human voice. The diode of choice for these early radio sets was frequently called a cat’s whisker diode, because it consisted of a crystal of galena, a form of lead sulfide, in contact with a spring of metal (the “whisker”). By carefully manipulating the pressure and orientation of the metal against the crystal, an operator could adjust the electrical properties of the semiconductor until they were optimal for radio reception. Powered only by the radio waves themselves, a crystal set was only strong enough to faintly produce sounds in an earphone.”

“Crystal radio receivers were used onboard ships and then in homes until they were replaced by new receivers based on vacuum tubes, which could amplify the faint radio waves so that they were strong enough to power a speaker and fill a room with speech or music. But tubes didn’t mark the end of the crystal radio: the devices remained popular for people who couldn’t get tubes—such as on the front lines in World War II — as well as among children learning about electronics. In the 1940s, scientists at Bell Labs turned their attention to semiconductor radios once again in an effort to perfect microwave communications. In the process, they discovered the transistor.”

“Braun went on to make other fundamental contributions to physics and electronics. In 1897, he invented the cathode-ray tube (CRT), which would become the basis of television. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize with Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.””

SEE ALSO: Silicon Transistor (1947)

Crystal Detector, made by the Philmore Manufacturing Company. To use this device, the operator would connect a wire to each of the two flanges and press the metal “whisker” into the semiconductor crystal.”

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First Electromagnetic Spam Message – 1864 A.D.

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First Electromagnetic Spam Message

“William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electromagnetic telegraph took England by storm shortly after commercial service began in 1837. By 1868, there were more than 10,000 miles of telegraph wire in the United Kingdom supporting 1,300 telegraph stations; four years later, there were 5,179 stations, serviced by more than 87,000 miles of wire.

With a capability to reach large numbers of people quickly and easily, the world’s first unsolicited, electrically enabled advertisement was sent in London late in the evening of May 29, 1864, according to historian Matthew Sweet. The message was from Messrs. Gabriel, a group of unregistered dentists, who sold a variety of false teeth, gums, toothpaste, and tooth powder.

The message, sent to current and former members of Parliament, read as follows:

Messrs. Gabriel, dentists, Harley-street, Cavendish-square. Until October Messrs. Gabriel’s professional attendance at 27, Harley-street, will be 10 till 5.

In 1864 there were no telegraphs in private residences; the message appeared on the swinging needles of the Cooke-Wheatstone electromagnetic telegraph, where it was transcribed by operators, carried by a boy sent from the London District Telegraph Company, and placed into the hand of a member of Parliament.

That M.P. wrote about his annoyance in a letter to the editor of the local paper: “I have never had any dealings with Messrs. Gabriel, and beg to know by what right do they disrupt me by a telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement? A word from you would, I feel sure, put a stop to this intolerable nuisance.”

But it wasn’t shame that put a halt to spam sent by telegram: it was the cost. Advertising by telegraph just wasn’t cost effective, due to the high price of sending the messages. That price plummeted with the birth of email, which was used to send a bulk, unsolicited advertisement for the first time in 1978.

SEE ALSO First Internet Spam Message (1978)

On May 29, 1864, Messrs. Gabriel, a group of unregistered dentists, sent members of the British Parliament the earliest known unsolicited electronic message. One recipient complained to the newspaper.

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History Software Engineering

Boolean Algebra – 1854 A.D.

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Boolean Algebra

George Boole (1815–1864), Claude Shannon (1916–2001)

“George Boole was born into a shoemaker’s family in Lincolnshire, England, and schooled at home, where he learned Latin, mathematics, and science. But Boole’s family landed on hard times, and at age 16 he was forced to support his family by becoming a school teacher—a profession he would continue for the rest of his life. In 1838, he wrote his first of many papers on mathematics, and in 1849 he was appointed as the first professor of mathematics at Queen’s College in Cork, Ireland.

Today Boole is best known for his invention of mathematics for describing and reasoning about logical prepositions, what we now call Boolean logic. Boole introduced his ideas in his 1847 monograph, “The Mathematical Analysis of Logic,” and perfected them in his 1854 monograph, “An Investigation into the Laws of Thought.”

Boole’s monographs presented a general set of rules for reasoning with symbols, which today we call Boolean algebra. He created a way—and a notation—for reasoning about what is true and what is false, and how these notions combine when reasoning about complex logical systems. He is also credited with formalizing the mathematical concepts of AND, OR, and NOT, from which all logical operations on binary numbers can be derived. Today many computer languages refer to such numbers as Booleans or simply Bools in recognition of his contribution.

Boole died at the age of 49 from pneumonia. His work was carried on by other logicians but didn’t receive notice in the broader community until 1936, when Claude Shannon, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), realized that the Boolean algebra he had learned in an undergraduate philosophy class at the University of Michigan could be used to describe electrical circuits built from relays. This was a huge breakthrough, because it meant that complex relay circuits could be described and reasoned about symbolically, rather than through trial and error. Shannon’s wedding of Boolean algebra and relays let engineers discover bugs in their diagrams without having to first build the circuits, and it allowed many complex systems to be refactored, replacing them with relay systems that were functionally equivalent but had fewer components.”

SEE ALSO Binary Arithmetic (1703), Manchester SSEM (1948)

“A circuit diagram analyzed using George Boole’s “laws of thought”—what today is called Boolean algebra. Boole’s laws were used to analyze complicated telephone switching systems.”

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Fax Machine Patented – 1843 A.D.

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Fax Machine Patented

Alexander Bain (1811–1877), Giovanni Caselli (1815–1891)

“Before the telephone, before radio, there was the fax machine. It wasn’t the fax machine of the 1990s — the machine that transmitted information over ordinary phone lines — but rather a machine comprising of a pair of synchronized pendulums connected to each other over distance by an electrified wire.

Alexander Bain was a Scottish clockmaker with an interest in both electricity and invention. In 1843, he built an “electric printing telegraph” that used a pair of precisely timed pendulums, one configured to function like a scanner, the other to function as a remote printer. A message scanned by the first pendulum would print out at the second.

The scanning pendulum had an arm that moved back and forth across a metal plate holding raised metal printers type. After each swing, the plate advanced in the perpendicular direction. Thus, the arm scanned a path of parallel horizontal lines across the type. When a small contact on the arm swept over part of a letter, a circuit would be completed and an electric current would flow down the wire to the remote system, where the synchronized pendulum was scanning horizontal lines over a piece of chemically treated paper. When electricity flowed, the paper under the second pendulum would change color.

Although Bain’s system worked, he ended up in disputes with both Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875) and Samuel Morse (1791–1872). Bain died in poverty in 1877.

Italian inventor Giovanni Caselli improved on Bain’s basic idea with a more compact device called a pantelegraph, which transmitted a message written with insulating ink on a metal plate over a set of wires. Commercial operation of the pantelegraph began in 1865 between Paris and Lyon, mostly to verify signatures on banking instructions.

The discovery that the element selenium was also a photoconductor meant that its electrical resistance changed with light, making it possible to send photographic images. This was put to use in 1907 with a “wanted” poster that was sent from Paris to London help catch a jewel thief. Soon newspapers were routinely printing photos that had been sent by wire. In 1920, the Bartlane cable picture transmission system routinely sent digitized newspaper photographs from London to New York, taking three hours to transmit each photograph.”

SEE ALSO First Digital Image (1957)

Alexander Bain’s “electric printing telegraph” paved the way for later fax machines, such as this 1960 machine by Alexander Muirhead.”

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History Software Engineering

Ada Lovelace Writes a Computer Program – 1843 A.D.

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Ada Lovelace Writes a Computer Program

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

“What do you get when you combine a scientifically minded, logical mother with a free-spirited, poetically gifted father? You get Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, better known as Ada Lovelace—a British woman of the Industrial Age who used her unusual background and lineage to contribute to the cutting-edge technology of her day: the steam-powered Babbage difference engine.

Her mother was Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron (1792–1860), and her father was the famous poet and notorious philanderer, Lord Byron (1788–1824). Lady Anne kicked Lord Byron out of the house when Ada was just five weeks old; Ada never met him. Determined to keep any trace of Lord Byron out of Ada’s life, she committed her daughter to a rigorous education in mathematics and science. Private tutors filled Ada’s days, including the Scottish science writer Mary Somerville, who introduced Ada to Charles Babbage at a dinner party.

At the party, Babbage unveiled a small prototype of his difference engine. Ada was captivated and wanted to know details of how it worked. That conversation was the first of many, which eventually led Babbage to show Ada the blueprints for his follow-up invention, the analytical engine. With her curious, creative mind and mature understanding of mathematics, she was commissioned to translate from French (at the time, a primary language of science) the lecture notes of Italian statesman Luigi Menabrea (1809–1896), who attended a talk Babbage gave on the analytical engine, and to add notes and ideas of her own. This she published in Scientific Memoirs, an early science journal, in 1843.

In that article appears Ada’s algorithm and detailed instructions for making Babbage’s machine compute Bernoulli numbers. This is generally regarded as one of the first published computer programs.

In recognition of her talents and influence on computer science, in 1979 the US Department of Defense named the Ada computer language after her.”

SEE ALSO The Jacquard Loom (1801)

Watercolor portrait of Ada Lovelace, by Alfred Edward Chalon, c. 1840. Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine, for which she designed the world’s first computer program.

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