COMPUTERS: HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT
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 centers 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. 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.
Early Computing Machines and Inventors
The abacus, which emerged about 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor and is still in use
today, may be considered the first computer.
It took nearly 12 centuries, however, for the next significant advance in computing
devices to emerge. In 1642, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the 18-year-old son of a French
tax collector, invented what he called a numerical wheel calculator to help his father
with his duties. This brass rectangular box, also called a Pascaline, used eight movable
dials to add sums up to eight figures long.
In 1694, a German mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz
(1646-1716), improved the Pascaline by creating a machine that could also multiply.
Like its predecessor, Leibniz's mechanical multiplier worked by a system of gears and
It wasn't until 1820, however, that mechanical calculators gained widespread use.
Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar, a Frenchman, invented a machine that could
perform the four basic arithmetic functions. Colmar's mechanical calculator, the
arithometer, presented a more practical approach to computing because it could add,
subtract, multiply and divide. With its enhanced versatility, the arithometer was
widely used up until the First