Nowadays we take them for granted, but computers, smartphones and enterprise servers are elements of our everyday lives that have their roots in a history that is both long and compelling. One of those by its very nature exceptional, and which has the merit of having made way for computers in their broadest sense.
And yet, if we were to ask ourselves what really changed the world, the computer would certainly be among the first answers: since it was invented, its application in the various spheres of our lives is increasingly extensive, and in some cases even indispensable. But have you ever wondered who invented the first computer in history and when?
Or where and from what comes the technology we use every day? Questions that we'll answer right away, going through the history of the computer and its origin, as well as the evolution that led this jewel of human ingenuity to embody in forms and solutions so different in the modern era.
History of the computer
Still before asking who invented the first computer, we should take a big leap back in time and focus on when. Not surprisingly, there were numerous studies and events that preceded the birth of the computer, and that were crucial to its actual creation. In 1833, Charles Babbage designed the Analytical Machine, the first true programmable computer, in the modern sense, in history.
Only the mill, the ALU, was made, but a complete prototype was never built. It was the first example of a machine design with a memory unit and a computation unit. By convention, however, experts have chosen 1932 as the theoretical year that kicked off the history of the computer and the concept of the calculator we have today. It was in this year that modern technology took its first steps, giving to the scientific world, and only later to the masses, the first computer with functions and dimensions very different from those we usually know.
The ancestor of modern computers was in fact gigantic and known by the friendly name of Memex, born with the intention of putting at man's disposal the possibility of recording all his literary works, thoughts and notes in a single gigantic archive.
The project is due to Vanner Bush and his talented team of researchers, who provided us with a first example of operation very similar to that of a modern hard disk, where data are inserted in the form of magnetic impulses and then read by special heads. Of course, the functions of Memex were absolutely basic, but for its time really impressive.
A time when one of the bloodiest global conflicts of all time was looming on the horizon: the Second World War. Precisely in this period, in the wake of the innovation imprinted by Memex and with the approach of the inevitable battle, inventions designed for the militia multiplied, as technological accessories to facilitate espionage and radio interception of the enemy. The war context saw then come to light, about 6 years after the invention of Memex, the first real computer called The Bomb.
The invention is attributed to Marian Rejewsky, Polish engineer who immediately made his device a perfect military tool for espionage. The bomb, in fact, was proposed as a natural antagonist of the German Enigma, just to decipher the coded messages that the Nazi army was used to send.
When was born the first personal computer
If in 1932 the Memex of Vanner Bush gave the impetus for the creation of the first computer in history and for what would be only later the World Wide Web, it is in 1938 that the invention of the first modern computer, due to the scientist Konrad Zuse. His Z1, as it was called, was a true masterpiece of technology, the first fully programmable computer based on the binary system with implementation of electromechanical memories and relays.
The Z1 could only perform one operation per second, with its computing speed set to one HZ. Then in 1939, Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford E. Berry of Iowa State University built the Atanasoff Berry Computer, commonly known as the ABC, the first fully electronic digital computer.
The ABC represents one of the greatest advances in the history of computers, going all by itself to introduce binary numbers into a digital computer and their management, parallel computing, regenerative memories and a separation of data and instructions.
Only six years later a new machine managed to surpass the beauties in circuits put together by Zuse, Atanasoff and Berry. The reference goes to Colossus, created in 1945 in the neighborhoods of Bletchley Park, London, again for purely military purposes. Resuming and improving on the idea behind Memex, the Colossus could pick up, decipher, interpret and translate into human language all signals coming from the enemy army led by Hitler.
All this was enclosed in a cabin almost as big as an entire apartment, which hid from view hundreds of valves and wires, which we can consider as predecessors of today's microprocessors and so-called printed circuit boards.
Colossus was shaped by the genius of British mathematician Alan Turing, who designed it to help the Allies against the power of the Third Reich. The operator assigned to the machine had the opportunity to read in real time the codes deciphered and to intervene on the same machine to translate them into an understandable language.
To do this took several hours, or even a few days!, using strings in the form of calculations to be deciphered with elaborate mathematical algorithms. This first "valve" computer was considered so important and secret that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after the end of the Second World War, had it destroyed. He imposed state secrecy on the whole operation, even having the construction plans burned.
Only in the 1990s, following the declassification of the relevant documents, was its existence known. At least 14 million people were saved thanks to Turing, who with his invention shortened the duration of the conflict by at least two years. Of course, we are still far from the modeling of the first personal computer, but these are discoveries to which the PC of our time owes a lot.
From the first computer to modern technology
Having arrived at this point in the history of the computer, you will understand that its birth and creation is not due to a single man, but a set of events that have defined over time form, structure and functions. So much so that we can not speak in a strict sense of a real first computer. In the post-war years, with the military field now set aside, new technologies were made available to industrial companies, leading to the design and release of computers increasingly advanced and improved.
And increasingly close to what are the current computers. Only the period of the Cold War has made the calculators and technology more generally come into the field again for the purpose of espionage, with the militia very often acting as an impetus for technological advancement, supporting inventions and related costs. Suffice it to say that the Internet itself was born for military purposes, and only later was made available to the entire population for all those varied uses that we know today, and of which we can no longer do without.
In the mid-seventies, key figures for computer literacy entered the scene, namely Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, respectively founders of the giants Microsoft and Apple. And "fathers" of modern home computers. But it is only in 1984 that the house of Apple goes to produce the second evolutionary step that leads to the current personal computers, attacking the market with the Macintosh.
A tool, this, as elegant in design as in the approach to the graphical interface. The Macintosh achieved unprecedented market success, thanks to its friendly, user-friendly approach and the obvious ease of use of its operating system, macOS. The answer came from Microsoft, which took its cue from the worldwide success of the Macintosh to rework many of its innovative features in the creation of its Windows operating system, triggering a legal battle that lasted over a decade.
In the meantime, Amiga and Commodore were carving out their own gigantic spaces in an increasingly thriving and constantly rising market. These are, in principle, the historical steps that led to modern computers from that first computer that worked with valves. And that have shaped entire generations of experts, scholars and simple technology enthusiasts.
Those efforts of extraordinary minds will always remain a fundamental element for human progress, as well as for the outline of a society increasingly anchored and "dependent" on hi-tech. Everything is now available and manageable on the net, maneuvered behind the scenes by powerful calculators that are smaller, more compact and with an attractive design.