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History of the computer timeline

The History of the Computer

Posted on: June 22, 2022

Computers have quickly wedged their way into every corner of our lives. From simple day-to-day tasks like cleaning and cooking to extraordinary feats of life-saving operations and space navigation, computers have completely transformed the way we live.  

When Were Computers Invented?

While we generally consider computers a symbol of the modern world, they actually date all the way back to 1822.

As the 200th anniversary of the first computer nears, it seems essential to reflect on the humble beginnings and celebrate the immeasurable impacts of today's most popular machine.

So how did people shift from performing complex calculations by hand over countless hours to using technology that solves our problems in a matter of seconds?

In 1882, English mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage designed the "Difference Engine," an idea that grew out of a desire to calculate mathematical tables mechanically. His design proposed a steam-powered machine containing numbered wheels that could carry out basic equations and store data to be processed later, much like a modern computer. Unfortunately, Babbage's design was placed on hold because of the time and a lack of resources. It wasn't until years later, in the 1850s, that engineers could complete a proper prototype. 

computer engineers working together

Babbage was also responsible for designing the "Analytical Engine," an extension of his previous invention that could potentially allow the execution of multiple calculations. However, Babbage never completed his design, and the machine never came to fruition. 

In succeeding years, many followed in Babbage's footsteps, developing revolutionary computing technology. For example, one computer, the Automatic Electrical Tabulating Machine, assisted in collecting data during the 1890 U.S. census, just a few decades later. It didn't take long for the computer to catch on. Soon, dozens of engineers were working to invent the next working machine, thus, propelling the idea of the computer to great pertinence.

How Do We Use Computers Today?

What was once a tool used by only the most patient mathematicians and engineers quickly became an essential household appliance by the 1980s. Today, computers exist in homes, businesses, schools, labs, government buildings, and everywhere in between. While some use computers for strictly recreational purposes, many rely on computers to make money, manage their health, and much more. 

The computer's most valuable accessory, the Internet, also made its way into people's homes during the 1980s and has since turned our world upside down, revolutionizing communication and altering culture entirely. In its early days, the Internet was a static network devised to move a small number of information between two terminals. Today, immense numbers of data are uploaded and downloaded every second. In just a click, we can order groceries, talk to friends worldwide, get the daily news, and even start businesses.

man using phone and laptop

What Will Computers Look Like in the Future? 

With more engineers working to improve our technology, future computers promise to be even faster and smaller than today's machines. While it's challenging to predict what computers will be like in the future, computer scientists and engineers have proposed and developed countless new ideas. These concepts will surely allow users to interact with technology more seamlessly and conveniently while processing unprecedented amounts of information. Some of the new cutting-edge computer technologies include:

1. Quantum Computing

One of the most rapidly-emerging bits of technology. Quantum computing utilizes quantum mechanics to solve problems that traditional computers cannot manage. Current quantum computers are fairly noisy and unreliable, but it is expected that we will be able to utilize this technology's power in the next decade or so. 

2.  DNA Digital Data Storage

Scientists have already discovered how to read, write, and replicate DNA. DNA Digital Data Storage utilizes those processes to store information in DNA molecules. Though still a few years away, this would help computer scientists store data in a much more condensed and sustainable way.

3. Neuromorphic Technology

This technology aims to create a computer that mimics the structure of a human brain to achieve human-like problem-solving abilities. In theory, this would require less energy than a traditional transistor and allow computers to harbor the same neural capacity as people. 

Of course, these are just a few computer technologies being put on the map. Computer scientists are also working hard to bring life to concepts like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, cyber security, and more.

Routledge is a leading publisher of groundbreaking computer science research and texts. To learn more about the computer's history, future, and societal impacts, check out a few of our notable science and technology titles here.