(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
A brief History of Computers
The computer was born in the middle of World War II.
A German civil engineer named Konrad Zuse built the first programmable computer at the end in 1941, the "Z3", the first hardware implementation of the Turing machine. It was programmable and digital, but it still employed electro-mechanical relays.
At the end of 1943 the Colossus debuted, a machine designed by telephone engineer Tommy Flowers in London. This was a digital electronic computer for the British army to decipher the secret code of the Germans.
A joint project between IBM and Harvard University yielded what IBM called
ASCC and Harvard called Harvard Mark I, designed by Howard Aiken at Harvard and built by Claire Lake at IBM in February 1944.
It was the first computer programmed by punched paper tape,
but it still employed electro-mechanical relays, just like Zuse's Z3.
In 1946 the ENIAC, or "Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer", was unveiled, built by John Mauchly and Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania.
It didn't have the stored program, so it had to be reconfigured for each task,
but it had a memory.
The idea of a stored program (making the computer a general-purpose device) was popularized by John VonNeumann's 101-page document titled "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC" of June 1945, the result of discussions with the ENIAC team.
The first computer with a stored program was the "Manchester Baby", officially named Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), that ran the first program in June 1948 at the University of Manchester, followed by the Manchester Mark 1 of April 1949.
In February 1951 British defense contractor Ferranti unveiled its commercial version, the Ferranti Mark I, the first programmable electronic computer that could actually be purchased and used by a customer.
The second stored-program electronic computer was the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), that debuted in May 1949, built by Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge University.
Alan Turing's Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) was never completed, but
an incomplete prototype was deployed in may 1950.
The third stored-program electronic computer, and the first to be actually deployed in the USA, was the SEAC, a scale-down version of the EDVAC and also the first to use semiconductors instead of vacuum tubes (May 1950).
The first commercial computers in the USA were the Univac (1951), built by the ENIAC team, and the IBM 701 (1952).
Von Neumann was personally involved in the design of a computer at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), built by Julian Bigelow (one of the co-authors with Norbert Wiener of the historical paper "Behavior, Purpose and Teleology" that launched Cybernetics in 1943). This IAS computer, operational in 1951, was used at the Los Alamos laboratories to simulate the hydrogen bomb before it was tested on an atoll of the Marshall Islands. Several "clones" of the IAS machine were built throughout the nation for research purposes: the Illiac at the University of Illinois (1952), the Maniac, also at Los Alamos (1952), and the Johnniac at Rand Corporation in Los Angeles (1953).
The transistor had been invented in 1947 but up until then the electronic computers mostly used the cumbersome and unreliable vacuum tubes.
The first fully transistorized computers were Bell Labs' Tradic (1954) and MIT's TX-0 (1955), just before the first Artificial Intelligence conference.
Zuse 3 (1941): Turing-complete, electromechanical, no stored program, no memory
Colossus (1943): electronic, not Turing-complete, no stored program, no memory
Harvard Mark 1 and IBM ASCC (1944): not Turing-complete, electromechanical, no stored program, decimal, no memory
ENIAC (1946): Turing-complete, electronic, no stored program, decimal (memory: delay lines)
Manchester Baby (1948): Turing-complete, electronic, stored-program (memory: Williams tubes)
Manchester Mark 1 (1949): Turing-complete, electronic, stored-program (memory: Williams tubes and drum memory)
Cambridge EDSAC (1949): ditto (memory: delay lines)
Pilot ACE (1950): ditto (memory: delay lines)
SEAC (1950): ditto (memory: delay lines) with semiconductor logic
Ferranti (1951): first commercial Turing-complete electronic stored-program computer (memory: Williams tubes and drum memory)
Univac (1951): ditto (memory: delay lines)
IAS (1951): ditto but not commercial (memory: Williams tubes)
IBM 701 (1952): ditto (memory: Williams tubes)
Bell Labs Tradic (1954): fully transistorized
MIT TX-0 (1955): fully transistorized
The first A.I. program, Newell's and Simon's Logic Theorist, was coded by Cliff Shaw at Rand Corporation and ran in August 1956 on a Johnniac.
"From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved" (Charles Darwin in "On the Origin of Species")
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