Saturday, December 15, 2012
On the Computer Revolution
On the Computer Revolution: In 1943, American physicist John Mauchly and electrical engineer John Eckert began working on ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Army, ENIAC was essentially a giant calculator. With 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighing approximately 30 tons, it became the first general purpose digital computer. Prior to ENIAC, however, punch cards were the primary method of collecting and sorting data. In fact, IBM pioneered punch card technologies in the early twentieth century. But what ultimately kicked the computer revolution into high gear was the transistor. Invented in 1948 at Bell Labs in New Jersey by William Shockley and others, the transistor was a semiconductor device designed to amplify and moderate electrical signals. It marked a significant upgrade from vacuum tubes and it even led to the integrated circuit, which contained large numbers of tiny transistors on a small chip. Invented in 1958 by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, the integrated circuit enabled computers to be smaller and more personal. That meant computers would one day be in the hands of individuals, not just corporate types and government officials. Counterculture thinker Stewart Brand saw the enormous potential of personal computing, as he wrote a famous article for Rolling Stone in 1972 ("Spacewar"), which basically predicted the coming of the internet. And capitalizing on this emerging need for digital self-expression was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who in 1976 realized that the personal computer market would be massive someday.