Information on Computers

Computing is not about computers anymore, it is about living. - Nicholas Negroponte

A computer is a machine that can be instructed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically via computer programming. Modern computers have the ability to follow generalized sets of operations, called programs.

These programs enable computers to perform a very wide range of tasks.

Most modern computer consists of at least one processing element, typically a central processing unit (CPU), and some form of memory. The processing element carries out arithmetic and logical operations, and a sequencing and control unit can change the order of operations in response to stored information. Peripheral devices include input devices (keyboards, mice), output devices (monitor screens, printers), and input/output devices that perform both functions (e.g. the 2000s-era touchscreen). Peripheral devices allow information to be retrieved from an external source and they enable the result of operations to be saved and retrieved.

Computers are used as control systems for a wide variety of industrial and consumer devices. This includes simple special purpose devices like microwave ovens and remote controls, factory devices such as industrial robots and computer-aided design, and also general purpose devices like personal computers and mobile devices such as smartphones.

Early computers were only conceived as calculating devices.

An example of such a calculating device is the Pascaline designed by Blaise Pascal to help his father with his taxes. The father of modern computing, Charles Babbage, built his difference engine in 1822. The difference engine got its name because it utilized a calculating technique called the method of differences. Like the Pascaline though, the Difference Engine was a calculator not a computer. Babbage also designed a general purpose machine called the Analytical Engine however he died before it could be built.

While Babbage is referred to as the "Father of computing" his machines were mechanical, not electrical or electronic. In the 1930s, Konrad Zuse picked up where Babbage had left off, adding electrical technology and other improvements to Babbage's design. Zuse's computer, the Z1, used electromechanical relays instead of Babbage's hand-cranked gears. The Z1 was programmable and had a memory, an arithmetic unit, and a control unit. Zuse also built a Z2 and Z3 but all three of his machines were destroyed due to the conflict of World War II.

Digital computers are the outcome of work done by a number of people in the 1930s and 1940s. Without getting to the arguments about who was first with what, three people stand out as the inventors of modern computers: John Atanasoff, John Mauchly, and J. Presper Eckert. From the work of these individuals and others that came afterwards, we have the very useful machines that we call computers.

Types of Computers


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