The first computer (1834> 1936)

The invention ofcomputer is the realization of man's desire to develop a universal computer, an idea born in Great Britain in the 20th century thanks to Charles Babbage and then perfected by Alan mathison turing in 1936. It is the improvement of many techniques, in particular in the field of electronics, which thus allows in 1943 to lead to the conception of the realfirst computer.

Who invented the computer?

Between 1834 and 1837, an English mathematician namedCharles Babbage imagine the concepts of the firstprogrammable calculating machine. A visionary inventor, he draws on the work ofBlaise Pascaland lay the foundation for what will become laterthe first computers, with the principle of programming by punched cards which one already finds for the automated production of music for example (Barrel organ). Unfortunately, he did not manage to put his idea into practice, the technologies of the time were still very limited, and his "differential machine" would never see the light of day.

It was not until almost a century that another English mathematician namedAlan turing opens a decisive path in the history of computer science. He publishes in 1936 his article "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" which will allow the construction of "Turing machines"which federate the concepts of computer, programming language and computer program.

The first computer and programmable calculators

The era of modern computers owes much to the major advances made during Second World War. Thus, the invention of electronic circuits, vacuum tubes, capacitors and relays replaced the generation of mechanical components, and digital computing replaced analog computing. The computers designed and produced during this time form what are called the first generation of computers.

From 1937 to 1944, many devices followed one another:

  • the "model k"(designed in a kitchen!)
  • the "Z-series"
  • theABC (Atanasoff Berry Computer)
  • the "Complex Number Computer" (or Model I)
  • and finally the Harvard Mark I

Computers in the service of war: the "Bomb" against "Enigma"

During World War II, the United Kingdom made great efforts in Bletchley Park to decipher the codes of German military communications. The main German encryption system, Enigma was attacked with the help of machines called bombs, created by the Polish secret service and improved by the British.

Alan mathison turing paves the way for the creation ofcomputerprogrammable from 1936, by publishing his article "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem". He describes his own so-called "Turing" machine, the firstprogrammable universal calculator, and in the process invents the concepts of programming andprogram.

These machines made it possible to find the encryption keys. The Germans also created another series of encryption systems (called FISH by the British) very different from Enigma. In order to break these systems, the professor Max Newman made it Colossus or the "Turing Bomb" which was dismantled and hidden because of its strategic importance.

The invention of the modern computer

It was not until 1946 and ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) designed by Presper Eckert and John William Mauchly to see the first fully electronic computer built to be Turing-complete. Then came from 1948 the architectural machines of von Neumann : unlike all previous machines, the programs were stored in the same memory as the data and could thus be handled like data. The first machine using this architecture was the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) built at the University of Manchester in 1948.

After that, IBM launches its model 701 in 1952 then a whole series of evolutions which will lead to the computers known as second generation (1956), third generation (1963) and finally fourth generation (1971) which saw the invention of the microprocessor and the never-ending race towards miniaturization and the rise of computing power. Desktop computers, laptops, and multiple high-tech versions (graphics cards, smartphone, touch tablets, etc.) are part of everyday life thanks to this invention, of which artificial intelligence is the latest avatar.

To go further on the first computer

- Prehistory and history of computers: From the origins of calculation to the first electronic calculators, by Robert Ligonniere. Robert Lafont, 1987.

- The fabulous history of inventions - From mastery of fire to immortality. Dunod, 2018.

Video: Computer History of New Documentary (January 2022).