Let us leave you with this thought: the calculating ability of the computer - which is initially what they were designed for - has given the ability to quickly break the German wartime codes, help solve the equations needed to make the Hydrogen Bomb, put a man on the moon, and answer fundamental questions about the age and nature of the universe.


The table below shows the difference in calculating power between manual, mechanical, electro-mechanical and electronic methods using the speed of a single multiplication of two, ten digit numbers as the test benchmark.

A FINAL THOUGHT

So it seems clear that, without the computer, many of the great achievements and discoveries of this century would not have been possible (or would have taken much longer to achieve). The ENIAC realised a speed increase of 100,000 times over calculations by hand. In comparison, following a further 50 years of development by the turn of the millennium, the Pentium 233 MHz was only roughly 240,000 times faster than the ENIAC itself was.


As a result the computer has provided us with the speed necessary to produce, in real time, the answers to questions and the solutions to equations that would have taken many human calculators many hundreds of years to obtain.


Imagine a problem that might take the ENIAC a day to solve… a succession of scientists and mathematicians working by hand would still be doing the calculations for that same problem one hundred years from now, and even then they would be more likely to make a mistake than any computer ever would (mistakes made by computers are generally programmed in by humans). But even now there are problems which our fastest computers cannot solve without centuries of calculation.


This history has concentrated on the first fifty years of the computer's development (1900 - 1950) - from a simple calculating machine to a machine so advanced that it had all the recognisable features of a computer today. It hasn’t touched on the later developments of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) and microchip technology that have made the machines of today so easy to use. Nor has it mentioned the software and hardware companies who fought for the monopoly to bring computers to the general public. These battles and developments pale in comparison to the unprecedented, difficult and ingenious work done to turn the computer from an abstract mathematical proof into a physical, almost limitless reality.

METHOD

TIME FOR MULTIPLICATION (milliseconds)

By Hand

300000

By Calculator (1943)

15000

ENIAC

2.8

EDSAC

5.4

Manchester Mark 1

10

Pilot ACE

2

SEAC

2.98