If you know a guy by the name Bill Gates then I guess you know what computers are. Some of you might know him, understandably, from the money side of it. He is arguably the richest man on earth and he has successfully defended his title for a couple of years now. His billions of dollars were largely made from computers, specifically computer software. He is also a shrewd business man (like our brothers who come from certain part of this country, and I will not say Central). But I guess you already know that don’t you? So, I will tell you something you probably didn’t know.
The dumb and dumber
Computers in the literal sense means something that calculates, you know from the word compute. Long before even your parents’ parents were born, people actually had computers only that time they were really manual. The abacus was the earliest form of know device that was used to do simple math. It was, and still is, a rectangular wooden device more in the shape of a picture frame. It has beaded and equally spaced wooden bars running top-down from one of the long sides of the rectangle to the other. It was largely used in Eastern Europe and Asia almost 3000 years to the birth of the Christ.
Fast forward into the future and what we refer to as computers are purely electronic gadgets. If you own a smart phone then you hold a computer right there. Our pocket-size computers give you a fully paid trip to ecstasy and back at arguably dismal cost. Other than just do math in ridiculously astronomical speeds and accuracy, they also double up as communication and entertainment gadgets. Next to an abacus, they make it look dumber than dumb and only good to warm yourself with on a cold night. Well, of course, other than for the blind who still apply it to learn math. But how did we get from a wooded dumb thing to something that thinks? Lend me your ears and I will tell you.
Rise of the machines
The present day computers started to take shape back in the 1940s. At that time we started to see electronically powered devices that could receive input, process it, and give an output. This concept of putting something in and getting out another collated thing out was, and still is, monumental and all computers work on this basis. Like our bodies receive food (input), digest (process) it, absorb nutrients and pass out waste (output), the computer follows the same. If you get this, then you can sleep calm at night know you learnt something and today was not a waste. By the way, before I forget, the computer does borrow heavenly from the way the human body functions. I say this because I will use another biology concept later and tie it to computers just to prove I listened during those biology classes.
But let’s not stop here, let me lay a few more concepts on you then I can let you go. The machines(yes we geeks tend to refer to our computers that way) in the 40’s where gigantic, so much so that you actually operated one from inside it; and here I mean a full grown man of average height could walk in and give it instructions while there. Computers then were more of rooms that the small boxes we see today. And just like that, we had the rise of the machines.
The good the bad and the ugly
At the time, the computers used switches, dials and punch cards (perforated cards) to feed input, vacuum tubes (they look like large capsules made of glass) for processing, and light bulbs and hardcopy printouts. Quite primitive you might say, but remember we had the abacus; at least we had moved from manual computers to electronic ones. Operating one of these required a genius in the literal sense. Interestingly enough, even women played a significant role developing the computers at this point. I wonder why women still shy away from the technical courses in current time against such a bright history. Feel free to hit me up with the answer to that.
Now back to the computer story. The game changed in between 1960s and late 1970’s. I will mention 3 major things that happened that moved the ball forward. Listen, the chip, the input and output devices, and the operating system. I will call them the Key Three. These 3 things made the future that is now happening.
Look out for my next article (Computers, The Toy Story II) as I tell you more about the Key Three.