When answering the question ‘what is a computer?’ it’s essential to consider where the name ‘computer’ comes from. The word computer comes from the Latin word ‘computare,’ which means ‘to calculate’ or ‘to count.’ As computers weren’t around in the Roman era, the name ‘computer’ was given to people who did calculations using mechanical calculators, such as the abacus. In 1613, English poet Richard Braithwaite also used the term ‘computer’ to describe someone who could do calculations perfectly.
Today, a computer is an electronic device that can input, output, store, and process information, otherwise known as ‘data.’ The computer receives data in a combination of 1s and 0s, known as binary code. You can think of binary code as its language, that computers translate into complex things, such as an image or a video.
Different types of computer
When talking about computers, most people are referring to ‘personal computers,’ such as laptops or desktop computers. And our smartphones have become small personal computers we use throughout the day. But did you know that there are different types of computers? Yes, other computers have additional data processing abilities and are categorized based on their purpose, data handling, and functionality.
The different types of computers are:
- Analog computers
- Personal computers
Analog computers process analog data and store it in continuous physical quantities. They perform calculations (rather than instructions) with the support of measures. They’re great for situations where data needs to be measured directly.
A workstation is a particular type of computer connected to a network, and the operating systems they use to allow more than one person to work on it simultaneously. They are used primarily for scientific applications.
A minicomputer is, well, a mini-computer. It has most of the features of a personal computer and can do the same things, but it’s physically smaller.
A mainframe computer is a large and powerful computer that can do large information processing jobs and run a full cooperation’s data processing. The government uses these for census or big companies to analyze consumer statistics.
A supercomputer is not only the most expensive computer but also the most powerful one. This is because it has excellent memory and speed – it’s nearly a thousand times faster than a personal computer and can perform billions of calculations per second.
So, when answering the question ‘what a computer is?’ you’ll now be able to explain that there are different types of computers, and while they all perform the same functions, they have other capabilities.
The history of a computer
We can’t answer ‘what is a computer?’ without also looking at the history of computers. So, let’s begin!
Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace
Charles Babbage built the first mechanical computer in 1837. Charles Babbage was a mathematician, inventor, mechanical engineer, and philosopher, and he is thought to be the ‘Father of the Computer’ because his Analytical Engine could input and output data. Data input was done via punched cards; these controlled the mechanical calculator.
However, Charles Babbage only considered his invention the sophisticated calculating machine; Ada Lovelace recognized it could do more than calculations.
Ada Lovelace, a mathematician, was intrigued by the Analytical Engine and worked out that it could do many sorts of processes, such as composing music. Then, in 1847, she devised an algorithm that instructed the machine to perform different functions. So, Ada Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer.
Alan Turing is one of the most influential people of the 20th century. During his time at Princeton University, Turing designed a theoretical machine named the Universal Machine that could solve any mathematical problem and perform any task.
Alan Turing was more than just a theorist, though. He worked as a codebreaker during the Second World War and attempted to decode the German military’s Enigma Cipher machine. Unfortunately, the Enigma Cipher machine’s encryptions were impossible to solve, and there were billions of encryption schemes.
This led Turing, along with the help of his colleagues and the work of Polish mathematicians, to devise an electromechanical machine that could scan through all the encryptions and help the Allied Intelligence decode the Germans’ Enigma Code. This electromechanical machine, called Bombe, shortened the Second World War by two years, saving millions of live, and was the beginning of digital computers as we know them today.
After the Second World War, Alan Turing continued his work and was employed by the National Physical Laboratory. There, he designed the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), the first electronic stored-program all-purpose digital computer.
Microsoft, Apple, the Internet, and more!
Many advancements were made to improve and develop the computer in the 20th century, but one notable advancement was the founding of Microsoft. Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft in 1975 and developed an operating system in partnership with IBM. A year later, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozinak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple INC and created Apple 1, the first computer with a single circuit board.
n 1981, IBM released the first personal computer, which used Microsoft’s operating system. This led to the development of many personal computers, including a display, a printer, disk drives, extra memory, and a game adaptor.
The invention of the internet began in 1983, and computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn worked on inventing the Internet communications protocols we use today. The internet is an extensive network of connected computers where users can communicate with each other and share information.
It wasn’t until the invention of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, though, that the internet was accessible to everyone – not just scientists. The World Wide Web (or www) allows webpages to be found easily on this network of computers. The internet will enable you to access and read these pages on your screen, from the comfort of your living room or while traveling on a train.
What is a computer used for?
- Education: A computer allows users to find information on an enormous range of topics. This information can aid pupils’ learning and help them complete research on a topic. It also helps educators find resources for their pupils to use.
- Medicine: Technology has advanced medical equipment, and computers have helped digitalize medical information that doctors, nurses, and medical students can access.
- Science: Scientists can collaborate with other scientists and specialists all over the globe and share their research. They can store and analyze their data on computers too.
- Entertainment: Most people use their computers for joy in one form or another. We can watch films or TV shows on our computers, play games, listen to music and talk to our friends and family.
These are just a few examples of how computers are used today and how computers have helped us and bettered our lives. It is essential, though, to be aware of how to use computers, particularly the internet, safely.