Top 25 days in computing history
The path to modern-day computing is longer than many suspect, and strewn with interesting nuggets of information. These include:
- the inventor of e-mail can't remember when he got it working
- Pac-Man was modelled on a pizza and called Puck-Man until vandals forced a name change
- the first hard drive had a 5MB capacity and could only be moved by a fork-lift truck
- in 1980, The Times reported with wonder that a word processor could be bought for £3,500
- Deep Blue's chess victory over Garry Kasparov was described as a 'psychological triumph'.
For full details of these milestones, and other gems from the Times Archive, read on...
December 23, 1834: Charles Babbage announces the analytical engine
Babbage had started work on a difference engine in 1821, believing that a mechanical calculating device could produce mathematical tables far more quickly and accurately than human mathematicians. During 1834, with his first engine still incomplete, he came up with the idea of an even more ambitious machine: the analytical engine, which could be programmed with a variety of calculations. According to the Science Museum in London:
The designs for the Analytical Engine include almost all the essential logical features of a modern electronic digital computer. The engine was programmable using punched cards. It had a ‘store’ where numbers and intermediate results could be held and a separate ‘mill’ where the arithmetic processing was performed. The separation of the ‘store’ (memory) and ‘mill’ (central processor) is a fundamental feature of the internal organisation of modern computers.
Babbage continued working on his designs until his death in 1871, but the limitations of Victorian engineering and his own awkward personality prevented him from building any of them. The Science Museum successfully assembled a difference engine from Babbage’s designs in November 1991 (pictured above).
- From the Times Archive, 1870: “It is difficult, perhaps, to make the nature of such abstruse inventions at all clear to the popular and untechnical reader” - The life and times of Mr Charles Babbage
Click here for a video of a recently built difference engine in action
October 22, 1925: The transistor is patented
Although Julius Edgar Lilienfeld never put his design into practice, the device he patented in 1925 was the forefather of each of the trillions of transistors in circulation today. Development was slow, but in the 1950s transistors began to replace the vacuum tubes of early computers, leading to smaller and more reliable devices.
- From the Times Archive, 1954: “The use of transistors in the ordinary radio set is probably still far off.” Click here for full article
January 1, 1939: Hewlett-Packard is founded, giving birth to Silicon Valley