Audrey Lee

Devices used for computation have been around since before 1000 BCE. However, these predecessors to the modern computer, such as the abacus, depended on physically manipulating rods or beads that represented numbers to perform mathematical calculations.

Where did computing come from?

The design for the first computer was created by Charles Babbage in the early 1800s. Babbage’s general-purpose computation machine, the Analytical Engine, consisted of a mill (to perform calculations), the store (data storage), the reader (input), and the printer (output). While the Analytical Engine was never fully built, its design was very influential for the next iteration of the computer.

Where did our computers come from?

We’ve talked about early computers being used mostly for mathematical calculations, but where did our modern-day, internet-surfing, multi-purpose computers come from? An important definition to know is for the term “modern computer”. Alan Turing proposed this definition in 1936 with the Universal Turing Machine (UTM), any programmable machine (capable of executing instructions) that stores its program in memory. Machines that are very similar to the UTM are considered to be “Turing-complete” and modern computers fit that definition.

Here are some important early modern computers:

Z3 (early 1940s): the first programmable digital computer, built in Germany but not released for general use

ENIAC (early 1940s): belonged to a class of modern computers known as the “vacuum tube” computers, the first general-purpose digital computer

UNIVAC (1946 and on): the first commercially produced line of digital computers

Xerox Alto (1973): the first modern computer equipped with a GUI

Macintosh (1984 and on): the first line of personal computers equipped with a GUI (these may sound familiar to you, as they’re still very popular today)

Fun Fact About Computer Bugs

Ever wondered why errors in code are called “bugs”? Well the term itself was in use for about a century to describe an issue in a piece of technology, but the popular story is that before people started using thin laptops, most computers were big enough to trap actual bugs inside and one did! Grace Hopper, inventor of FLOW-MATIC, and her team once found a moth causing issues inside of a calculator and memorialized it in a notebook. The first documented computer “bug” (that was actually a bug)!

Where did programming come from?

The first computer programmer was Lady Ada Lovelace. Having worked closely with Babbage, she became the first to master the Analytical Engine’s “programming language”: punching holes into specific locations on cards that would convey information to the Analytical Engine’s reader.

Our version of programming languages, which uses an English-based syntax, originated from the languages called FLOW-MATIC (1955) and FORTRAN (1956). While there are non-English programming languages, including the first high-level programming language called Plankalkül (early 1940s), this course and most commonly-used programming languages are based in English. Here are some of the programming languages you will learn through the courses : Python (1991), HTML (1993), Java (1996), JS (1996), and C++ (1979).