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Computer Appreciation

 

1.1 Introduction - what is computer

 

A computer is an electronic machine that accepts information, stores it until the information is needed, processes the information according to the instructions provided by the user, and finally returns the results to the user. Thus nothing epitomizes modern life better than the computer. For better or worse, computers have infiltrated every aspect of our society. 

Today computers do much more than simply compute: supermarket scanners calculate our grocery bill while keeping store inventory, computerized telephone switching centres play traffic cop to millions of calls and keep lines of communication untangled; and automatic teller machines (ATM) let us conduct banking transactions from virtually anywhere in the world. Above all The computer can store and manipulate large quantities of data at very high speed, but a computer cannot think. A computer makes decisions based on simple comparisons such as one number being larger than another. But where did all this technology come from and where is it heading? To fully understand and appreciate the impact computers have on our lives and promises they hold for the future, it is important to understand their evolution. 

History of Computers

Since civilizations began, many of the advances made by science and technology have depended upon the ability to process large amounts of data and perform complex mathematical calculations. For thousands of years, mathematicians, scientists and businessmen have searched for computing machines that could perform calculations and analyze data quickly and efficiently. One such device was the abacus.

The abacus was an important counting machine in ancient Babylon, China, and throughout Europe where it was used until the late middle ages. It was followed by a series of improvements in mechanical counting machines that led up to the development of accurate mechanical adding machines in the 1930ís. These machines used a complicated assortment of gears and levers to perform the calculations but they were far to slow to be of much use to scientists. Also, a machine capable of making simple decisions such as which number is larger was needed. A machine capable of making decisions is called a computer.

Look what you can get

Look

what you can get

The first computer like machine was the Mark I developed by a team from IBM and Harvard University. It used mechanical telephone relays to store information and it processed data entered on punch cards. This machine was not a true computer since it could not make decisions.

In June 1943, work began on the world's first electronic computer. It was built at the University of Pennsylvania as a secret military project during World War II and was to be used to calculate the trajectory of artillery shells. It covered 1500 square feet and weighed 30 tons. The project was not completed until 1946 but the effort was not wasted. In one of its first demonstrations, the computer solved a problem in 20 seconds that took a team of mathematicians three days. This machine was a vast improvement over the mechanical calculating machines of the past because it used vacuum tubes instead of relay switches. It contained over 17,000 of these tubes, which were the same type tubes used in radios at that time.

The invention of the transistor made smaller and less expensive computers possible. Although computers shrank in size, they were still huge by todayís standards. Another innovation to computers in the 60ís was storing data on tape instead of punch cards. This gave computers the ability to store and retrieve data quickly and reliably.