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 The Analytical Engine

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PostSubject: The Analytical Engine   26th June 2009, 14:42

The Analytical Engine
Also in the 19th century, the British mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage worked out the principles of the modern digital computer. He conceived a number of machines, such as the Difference Engine, that were designed to handle complicated mathematical problems. Many historians consider Babbage and his associate, the British mathematician Augusta Ada Byron (Lady Lovelace, 1815–52), the daughter of the English poet Lord Byron, the true inventors of the modern digital computer. The technology of their time was not capable of translating their sound concepts into practice; but one of their inventions, the Analytical Engine, had many features of a modern computer. It had an input stream in the form of a deck of punched cards, a “store” for saving data, a “mill” for arithmetic operations, and a printer that made a permanent record.
Early Computers.
The building of analog computers began at the start of the 20th century. Early models calculated by means of rotating shafts and gears. Numerical approximations of equations too difficult to solve in any other way were evaluated with such machines. During both world wars, mechanical and, later, electrical analog computing systems were used as torpedo course predictors in submarines and as bombsight controllers in aircraft. Another system was designed to predict spring floods in the Mississippi River Basin.
In 1941 the German engineer Konrad Zuse (1910–95) built the Z3, the first fully functional digital computer to be program-controlled. (Zuse’s Plankalkül, written for the Z3, has been called the first programming language.) Also in the 1940s, Howard Aiken (1900–73), a Harvard University mathematician, created the Mark I, usually considered the first large-scale automatic digital computer. This machine, like the Z3, used relays; it was constructed from mechanical adding machine parts. The instruction sequence to be used to solve a problem was fed into the machine on a roll of punched paper tape, rather than being stored in the computer. In 1945, however, the idea of storing the program within the computer was set forth, based on the concepts of the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann. The instructions would be stored within a so-called memory, freeing the computer from the speed limitations of the paper tape reader during execution and permitting problems to be solved without rewiring the computer.
Electronic Computers.
The rapidly advancing field of ELECTRONICS, (q.v.) led to construction of electronic digital computers. The British government built the so-called Colossus machines during World War II to break German codes, but they were special-purpose machines. The first large-scale general-purpose all-electronic computer was completed in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania by the American engineer John Presper Eckert, Jr. (1919–95) and the American physicist John William Mauchly (1907–80). (Another American physicist, John Vincent Atanasoff, later successfully claimed that certain basic techniques he had developed were used in this computer.) Called ENIAC, for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, the device contained 18,000 vacuum tubes and had a speed of several hundred multiplications per minute. Its program was wired into the processor and had to be manually altered.
The use of the TRANSISTOR, (q.v.) in computers in the late 1950s marked the advent of smaller, faster, and more versatile logical elements than were possible with vacuum-tube machines. The first commercial computer to use transistors was developed in 1957 by Seymour R. Cray, a pioneer in the design of supercomputers. Because transistors use much less power and have a much longer life, this development alone was responsible for the improved machines called second-generation computers. Components became smaller, as did intercomponent spacings, and the system became much less expensive to build.
Integrated Circuits.
In the late 1950s, the INTEGRATED CIRCUIT (q.v.), or IC, was introduced, making it possible for many transistors to be fabricated on one silicon substrate, or “chip,” with interconnecting wires plated in place. The IC resulted in a further reduction in price, size, and failure rate. The MICROPROCESSOR, (q.v.) became a reality in the mid-1970s with the introduction of the large scale IC (LSI) and, later, the very large scale IC (VLSI), with many thousands of interconnected transistors etched into a single silicon chip. Today, a single microprocessor chip may contain millions of transistors.
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