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Dated: Oct. 12, 2004

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How back does computer history go?

Let's start with a few interesting things about the abacus. The abacus emerged about 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor and is still in use today. So it may be considered the first computer ever invented. This device allows users to make computations using a system of sliding beads arranged on a rack.

Early merchants used the abacus to keep trading transactions. But as the use of paper and pencil spread, particularly in Europe, the abacus lost its importance. It took nearly 12 centuries for the next significant advance in computing devices to emerge.


Computer History: The Pascaline

It was 1642. That year the 18-year-old son of a French tax collector, or the well known Blaise Pascal, invented what he called a numerical wheel calculator to help his father with his duties.

This Pascaline, or the brass rectangular box, used eight movable dials to add sums up to eight figures long. Pascal's device used a base of ten to accomplish this. For example, as one dial moved ten notches, or one complete revolution, it moved the next dial - which represented the ten's column - one place. When the ten's dial moved one revolution, the dial representing the hundred's place moved one notch and so on.

Computer History: The Father Of Computers

The drawback to the Pascaline, of course, was its limitation to addition. And after that a lot of calculators were invented. Some were simpler some more sophisticated, but everything was moving further and further on.

The real beginnings of computers as we know them today lay with an English mathematics professor, Charles Babbage. He is well known also as "the father of computers".

Frustrated at the many errors he found while examining calculations for the Royal Astronomical Society, Babbage declared, "I wish to God these calculations had been performed by steam!" With those words, the automation of computers had begun.

By 1812, Babbage noticed a natural harmony between machines and mathematics: machines were best at performing tasks repeatedly without mistake; while mathematics, particularly the production of mathematic tables, often required the simple repetition of steps.

The problem centered on applying the ability of machines to the needs of mathematics. Babbage's first attempt at solving this problem was in 1822 when he proposed a machine to perform differential equations, called a Difference Engine.

Powered by steam and large as a locomotive, the machine would have a stored program and could perform calculations and print the results automatically.

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