A computer is a programmable machine that receives input, stores and manipulates data, and provides output in a useful format.
Although mechanical examples of computers have existed through much of recorded human history, the first electronic computers were developed in the mid-20th century (1940–1945). These were the size of a large room, consuming as much power as several hundred modern personal computers (PCs). Modern computers based on integrated circuits are millions to billions of times more capable than the early machines, and occupy a fraction of the space. Simple computers are small enough to fit into small pocket devices, and can be powered by a small battery. Personal computers in their various forms are icons of the Information Age and are what most people think of as "computers". However, the embedded computers found in many devices from MP3 players to fighter aircraft and from toys to industrial robots are the most numerous.
The ability to store and execute lists of instructions called programs makes computers extremely versatile, distinguishing them from calculators. The Church–Turing thesis is a mathematical statement of this versatility: any computer with a certain minimum capability is, in principle, capable of performing the same tasks that any other computer can perform. Therefore computers ranging from a net book to a supercomputer are all able to perform the same computational tasks, given enough time and storage capacity.
The first use of the word "computer" was recorded in 1613, referring to a person who carried out calculations, or computations, and the word continued to be used in that sense until the middle of the 20th century. From the end of the 19th century onwards though, the word began to take on its more familiar meaning, describing a machine that carries out computations.
The history of the modern computer begins with two separate technologies—automated calculation and programmability—but no single device can be identified as...