A computer, is a machine that is designed to perform multiple different tasks set depending on the program it has stored in its memory. These could be solving mathematical problem, or controlling robotic arms. Computers manipulate data in the form of binary code, which is base 2. This means that there can only be a 1 or a 0 in any place value.
Prior to the advent of computing machines, the definition for computer was a human being who performed complex mathematical calculations. This was accomplished with the aid of a manual counting device, such as an abacus or a slide rule, and was mainly used by traders and early bankers to keep a reliable record of funds
Charles Babbage, a British scientist who lived in the 19th century, has been credited as the designer of the first digital computer, the Difference Engine, a machine set to do calculations reliably up to six decimal places. It was entirely mechanical. However, the Engine was never constructed, being deemed as "had derived no emolument whatsoever from the government" by a member of parliament. He also designed an even more sophisticated "Analytical Engine", that would actually have been a programmable computer in the modern sense; it, too was mechanical. Though it was never built, Augusta Ada wrote some programs for it (to compute Bernoulli polynomials), making her the world's first computer programmer. A small version of the Difference Engine, was built after his death by his son.
Babbage later designed an even more clever "Difference Engine Number 2", that was also not completed in his lifetime. But in 1991, the bicentennial of Babbage's birth, this computer was built in the British Science Museum, from Babbage's original plans. It operates flawlessly, though a few billion times more slowly than modern electronic computers. It is operated by turning a crank.
- Who Made the First Computer?
- John V. Atanasoff Dies at Age 91 Invented First Electronic Computer. Washington Post Obituary.
- AVIDAC to Virtual Reality Argonne History (U.S. Department of Energy).