Back to: Jss1 Computer Science – ICT (BST)
Topic: Electronic Counting Devices and Modern Computers
Electronic Counting Devices and Modern Computers
Electronic devices use electric currents to operate and form the basis of contemporary computers. Among these devices are some historically significant inventions:
Herman Hollerith’s Punched Card (1860 – 1929)
This device, invented by American statistician Herman Hollerith, utilised the concept of punched cards to process information obtained during the United States’ 1890 population census. Hollerith’s machine recorded, completed, and tabulated the data with accuracy and speed, making it a game-changer in the field of data processing. Hollerith went on to establish a company that merged with others, eventually becoming a part of the American Computer company known as International Business Machines (IBM), which is now one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers.
John Von Neumann’s Machine (1903 -1857)
This Hungarian-born mathematician and scientist, John Von Neumann, proposed the invention of the Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (EDVAC), which was built at the Moore School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1945. Von Neumann’s idea of stored programs through the EDVAC revolutionised the computing industry. He also pioneered the use of microcomputers for computer modelling and simulation in the 1940s.
All modern machines have been built based on the principles established by John Von Neumann. Since then, scientists have been developing their computers. By 1950, the National Bureau of Standards in the USA had constructed the SEAC computer.
In addition to these devices, Joseph Marie Jacquard’s loom, invented in 1804, was the significant machine that simplified the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns such as brocade, damask, and matelassé. The loom was controlled by a chain of punched cards, with each card corresponding to one row of the design, making it the first machine to utilise punch cards to control a sequence of operations.
Charles Babbage’s Machines
Charles Babbage, an English polymath born on 26 December 1791 and passed away on 18 October 1871, was a man of many talents. He was not only a mathematician and philosopher but also an inventor and mechanical engineer. One of his most significant contributions to the world of computing was the origin of the concept of a digital programmable computer.
Although Babbage is often credited with inventing the first mechanical computer, which subsequently led to more sophisticated electronic designs, the fundamental ideas of modern computers can all be traced back to Babbage’s analytical engine. As a result, he is regarded as a pre-eminent figure among the many polymaths of his era.
Babbage was the first person to design a computer that differed from a calculator, and he is commonly referred to as the father of modern-day computers. His work in various other fields was varied and extensive, but it was his contributions to the world of computing that have earned him a place in history as a pioneer and visionary.
Charles Babbage’s ingenious mind led to the creation of the difference engine in 1822. This innovative machine was capable of performing complex calculations swiftly and accurately, using principles that would go on to anticipate those of modern electronic computers. The difference engine was an automatic mechanical calculator specially designed to tabulate polynomial functions. Its name derives from the method of divided differences, a technique that allows the machine to interpolate or tabulate functions by using a small set of polynomial coefficients. By approximating many mathematical functions commonly used by engineers, scientists and navigators, such as logarithmic and trigonometric functions, a difference engine can generate a plethora of useful tables of numbers.
In 1837, Charles Babbage introduced the world to the analytical engine, a groundbreaking device that was capable of being programmed. The analytical engine was a proposed mechanical computer designed to be general-purpose, created by Babbage, an English mathematician and computer pioneer. This remarkable machine was first described as the successor to Babbage’s difference engine, which was a design for a mechanical computer. The analytical engine incorporated an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory, making it the first design for a general-purpose computer that could be described in modern terms as Turing-complete. In other words, the logical structure of the analytical engine was essentially the same as that which dominated computer design in the electronic era, enabling it to receive instructions and solve problems given to it. The analytical engine was an impressive feat of engineering and an essential precursor to the modern-day computer that we know and rely on today.
The Analytical Engine, invented by the renowned mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage, was a mechanical computer that comprised several essential components, including:
- A mill designed for calculation
- A store intended for storing instructions, intermediate and final results
- An operator, or system, to execute the instructions
- A device for reading and writing data on punched cards
The mill was a critical component of the Analytical Engine, which could perform mathematical operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The store, on the other hand, was a form of memory that could store and retrieve data during the computation process.
The operator, which is analogous to the central processing unit (CPU) in modern computers, was responsible for carrying out instructions and controlling the data flow within the Analytical Engine. It utilised a system of conditional branching and loops to facilitate decision-making and control flow.
The punched card was a revolutionary technology in its time, which allowed the Analytical Engine to read and write data. The punched card was a piece of cardboard or paper with holes punched into it in a specific pattern, representing data or instructions that the machine could understand.
Together, these four components formed the foundation of the Analytical Engine, a revolutionary piece of technology that laid the groundwork for modern computing. Charles Babbage’s visionary ideas and innovative approach to engineering helped shape the technological landscape of the world we live in today.