What is a Computer?
What is a Computer?
During the 19th Century, the definition of a Computer was ‘a person who calculated’, using logarithm tables to work out complicated sums. [BBC]. This was not a very reliable form of calculating. Mistakes were either frequently made by calculators or found in the logarithm tables that they used. When Charles Babbage ordered new logarithm tables he insisted that two independent calculators checked them and then met to compare their findings. Many mistakes were found and Babbage, frustrated by this, said he wished that calculations could be ‘done by steam’ instead. [BBC] He began contemplating on this idea further. The Victorian age had seen machines replace many manual tasks. Babbage believed that machines had the potential to carry out mental tasks as well.
The Industrial Revolution was built on the use of numbers. Developments in Civil and Industrial Engineering as well as Navigation relied heavily upon accurate calculations. Babbage decided to create a calculating machine that would be more reliable then human calculators, which he called the Difference Engine. This involved a sequence of squares set up by turning a handle to perform calculations. The results were then printed off for further accuracy. His project would never be finished, as Babbage wanted to develop a machine that could do many different things rather then just calculate. His Difference Engine would, however, become the ‘basis of the modern day computer’. [BBC] It is now preserved in the ‘museum at South Kensington, England.’ [Chase, G.C]
Between 1935 and 1945 the definition of the Computer would change from person to machine. In Berlin a young engineering student called Konrad Zuse took the first steps towards building a fully functional general-purpose computer, called the Z3. He wanted to show that it was possible to build a ‘reliable working machine for every complicated arithmetic calculations’. [Zuse, H] He had noticed that a...