Computers are now commonplace in society. They are integral parts of telecommunications, and they can be seen popping up everywhere from our homes to the supermarket. Computer technology is one of the fastest advancing inventions mankind has ever developed. It is no wonder that there are some pieces of computer technology that have achieved a certain amount of infamy in our culture. However, these early stars of the computing world could not hold a candle to the processing chips we take for granted in our smart phones. Taking a look back at the predecessors to some of our contemporary processors can give us a good idea of just how far we have come.
Tools of Great Power
There was a time that computers required entire rooms to fully flex their electronic muscles. The Colossus took earned its name due to both its size and the important historical role it played at the time of its development. Commissioned by the British government in 1943, it was the first digital computer. The invention of the technology was spurred by the effort to win World War II. It was of such importance that it remained classified until late into the 1970’s. The primary function of the computer was to decrypt codes related to German war activity. It used paper tape that it read optically, and it had the ability to process 5,000 characters a second. As it crunched the data, the tape shot through the machine at an average of 30 miles per hour.
The Revolution Started Small
The original Macintosh was a bulky, bland-colored piece of machinery that had a big future ahead of it. Released in 1984, the Macintosh 128k still holds considerable value for enthusiast in this particular niche. When you compare the computing power of this machine to the iPhone, the smart phone destroys the competition by boasting more than 4,000 times more memory operating at 100 times the speed of the old Mac. The computer only enjoyed minimal success at the time of its release, primarily due to the fact that it was about the most portable thing on the market. However, the importance of Macintosh as of late has retroactively turned this piece of equipment into a legend.
Man’s Constant Companion
There is no doubt that landing on the surface of the moon would not be possible without computer guidance. Even with this kind of assistance, it was a shot in the dark at the time. MIT developed the Apollo guidance system, resulting in the first device that made use of integrated circuits. The system processed guidance controls and navigation functions with only 2.048 MHz of processing power under its belt. In order to put things in perspective, those specs give the Apollo computer just about enough space to store the average Word document. In fact, the drive was a read-only system. It was not capable of storing anything at all. When the whole system was integrated into the craft, the total weight came out to about 70 pounds. The iPhone can again assert its superiority by weighing in at 4.8 ounces.
The Quest for Independence
Much of mankind’s current efforts involving computer technology are related to developing artificial intelligence (AI). Watson is thus far the most famous example of this effort. The fame of this computer was achieved during its appearance on Jeopardy. Vast numbers of people tuned in to see if AI had actually gotten to the point that it could vest man in the realm of natural intelligence. The use of this sort of test for AIs has a long tradition in the development of chess software. However, Watson was attempting to establish a new level of sophistication. Watson was designed to answer questions posed in natural language by accessing its over 200 million pages of information stored on its 4 terabyte disk storage device. Watson did claim first prize in the contest, making mankind the loser in this contest but the winner in a much more pivotal race.
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Terry Scott works as a computer networking systems administrator and prides himself on his knowledge about what he refers to as “all things geek”. Terry is happy to share with his readers tech tidbits, interesting facts, and the occasional how-to. He was more than happy to offer his assistance at Best Computer Science Schools, a resource for others interested in getting the education needed for landing a job in the growing field of computer science.