Computers Introduction When people today are asked to visualise a computer, the first thing that they think of is most likely to be a personal computer (PC) or a laptop computer. The earliest modern computers, however, did not have a monitor, keyboard and mouse (synonymous with computers today). This chapter explains how computer technology in World War II provided a solid foundation for post-War developments. It also discusses the purposes of computers in the decades following World War II. Computers in World War II A turning point in computer technology was reached during World War II. Driven by the need to create machines that could provide an advantage over an economic opponent, a wide range of sophisticated computers were developed. Some of these computers, including Howard Aiken's Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), were invented for solving equations that were too complex and time consuming to calculate manually. Other computers, such as Tommy Flowers' electronic digital 1500-tube Colossus Mark I (1943), were designed to decode German military messages which had been encrypted by a device known as Enigma. Once the Allies were able to crack the codes, they were able to locate German submarines before the Germans could attack. It is indisputable that computer technology played a large part in determining the Allies' triumph over the Axis Powers in World War II. Post-war technology Despite the early computers having been developed for military and scientific purposes, the war-time advances in computer technology played a significant role in assisting the development of computers in post-War times. At that time, however, computers were still large, expensive and much less powerful than the present-day PC. ENIAC Developed in 1946, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) is often credited with being the first modern computer that could be programmed to perform almost any calculation. ENIAC stored information on punched tape or cards (each row of holes represented a character or digit. Similar in size to all other computers of the time (at 2.5 metres high and 24 metres long) the ENIAC was so large that it filled two entire rooms. Comprising 18 000 vacuum tubes which controlled the flow of electricity, the ENIAC also consumed as much electricity as ten family homes. During the 1950s, business computers, such as the Universal Automatic Calculator (UNIVAC) were developed. The UNIVAC, which stored information on magnetic metal tape, was used within the US Census Bureau. In 1952, voting data was loaded into the UNIVAC which saw it correctly predict the winner of the US presidential election. Impact of computer technology During the 1950s, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which had previously only designed calculators and typewriters for business, decided to venture into the computer market. In 1952, it released the IBM 701 and 650. IBM managed to sell 1800 of the 650s, which was a massive achievement for the time. While the 701 and 650 were much easier to transport than any other computers, the size and cost of computers during the 1950s still made them inaccessible to the general public. It was only large, wealthy companies and government organisations that could afford to own computers. While these companies usually only used computers for such things as managing staff payrolls, computer technology enabled companies to increase their efficiency. During the late 1950s, the transistor replaced the vacuum tube as the main electronic component of the computer. The advantage of the transistor was that it was much smaller in size and used less power than the vacuum tube, making it much cheaper. This enabled computers to be purchased by a wider market, including universities, newspapers and smaller companies. As time went on and computer technology became more advanced, computers became smaller, faster, more powerful and more affordable. Since a growing number of people were able to access computers, they began to have a greater impact on everyday life. The workplace began to change, as menial tasks such as data processing were completed with greater accuracy and in less time than ever before. It was not, however, until the 1980s that computers became more common in the home and for leisure. Since then, computers have enabled people from almost anywhere in the world to access information on almost any topic, from shopping to downloading music and movies. Computers have also allowed people in countries around the world to instantly communicate with each another through email, chat programs and video calls. For countries such as Australia, which are geographically isolated from the rest of the world, computer technology has brought countries in the northern hemisphere closer than ever before.
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