Chun Chung Cheung
Fall, 2000

Essay Topic: Summarize the key or most important developments in the history of the computer

Using the computer has become a part of people's life, because the computer provides a lot of services and benefits to the people. The computer is an amazing invention. People use it to solve a lot of problems and do tedious work, such as complicated calculations, heavy paper work, and tabulating millions of records and data. Moreover, the computer can create many beautiful three-dimensional graphics in video games to entertain people. It really helps people to live their lives and do their jobs more efficiently and smoothly. Besides, today's computers run and perform better because computer experts have spent a long time developing and improving them.

In the old days, people invented machines such as the Abacus in order to help them in calculation. The abacus was the fundamental and early model for the computer. It was created about 2500 years ago in China. Basically, it was used to perform some calculations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Moreover, Stonehenge was constructed from more than nine hundred of stone rings in British Isles between 3000 and 1000 BC. It was used to predict solstices, equinoxes and solar calendar. By 1822, Charles Babbage, a mathematics professor, proposed the first mechanical machine to perform differential equations, called a Difference Engine. After ten years, he invented a new machine that he called the Analytical Engine. It used to perform mathematical operations and using punched card to record data. Although the Analytical Engine could not be made by the old technology, it outlined the basic elements of modern general computer and was a benefit to computer development.

In 1890 Herman Hollerith created a punch-card machine to store vast amounts of data for the United States Census. Actually, he applied the theory of the binary code developed by Basile Bouchon in 1725. Binary code is a basic computer data processing pattern. It consists of 0s and 1s in which used to make a permanent memory. Then, the first digital computer, Mark I, was invented. The creator was Howard H. Aiken who was a Harvard engineer working with IBM which was established by Herman Hollerith. Mark I made Charlie Babbage's dream of Analytical Engine came true. Afterward, many scientists and developers invented many high performance and smaller computers. They also developed the computer from something mechanical to something electronic.

Computer technology grew quickly in the modern age. It depended on the struggle and experiments of many scientists and computer experts. The first generation of modern computers was made of many vacuum tubes, capacitors and resistors. These computers were very big. In 1942, John P. Eckert and John W. Mauchly invented The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) which was built at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering. ENIAC was used to prepare firing and bombing tables for the U.S. Army and Navy. It weighed 30 tons, used more than 19000 vacuum tubes, 1500 relays and hundreds of thousands of resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

The second generation of computers was made of transistors. This was a great change in the computer's development because it meant that size and speed was smaller and faster. Moreover, the computer costs were reduced greatly. Higher levels of computer languages were developed, such as COBOL and FORTRAIN. It were used to write a sequence of instructions (a computer program) and then executed by the computer.

The third generation of computers was made up of integrated circuits. Experts put millions of transistors onto one small piece of chip-set, which could handle a million calculations in a second. Moreover, operating systems and different programs were developed to run on the computer.

The technology and knowledge progressed very fast. The fourth generation of computers was developed to be even smaller and more reliable. Now with the so-called desktop or personal computer, computer users could put the computer on their desk. Then experts developed the notebook computer that could be put into the briefcase. This was convenient for people who often travel in business. In the offices, staffs could communicate and share resources on the LAN (Local Area Network). They could access many computer devices from file servers and some specific servers, such as, printers, files, software, and backup services.

In addition, Internet access was developed and became very popular. In 1973, the U.S Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency performed a research project to test the technology of interlinking packet networks which it called the internetting project. Investigators used network protocols to make computers communicate one other. Actually, the Internet is comprised of thousands of interconnected computer networks from different countries and Internet service providers. The Internet allows people to use electronic mail (E-mail) to send messages to each other and to access more than a million web sites and homepages. Moreover, they are able to get a lot of different information and resources, for instance different categories of news, research reports, advertisements, new product information, and business resources. Some people use the Internet to manage their money in electronic banking; to complete a degree in on-line universities; to shop for products from electronic shops. The Internet has played a major role in computer development and during the decade of the 1990s.

The fifth generation of computers has made amazing development in Artificial Intelligence. AI makes the computer have a human thinking pattern and human-like intelligence because computer experts develop new programming languages that make the machines recognize the human voice. Computers or robots have abilities to learn and accumulate new knowledge like human beings do. These machines also can respond to the operator's commands and instructions. Moreover, voice recognition software allows us to use our voices to command the computer to work for us.

Finally, computer development has really made people's life more comfortable by reducing redundant work and increasing work performance. It affects our life in many ways. In the future, the computer will be even smaller and faster. Now the latest computers such as Pentium III and AMD K7, can perform at incredible speeds. In addition, wireless communication is becoming very popular. People can check e-mail and access the information superhighway from their mobile phone and car because most information and network signals are transmitted by satellites. As technology continuous to advance, people will be able to access the Internet and video conferencing on their watches.