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About this book

Tracing the story of computing from Babylonian counting boards to smartphones, this inspiring textbook provides a concise overview of the key events in the history of computing, together with discussion exercises to stimulate deeper investigation into this fascinating area. Features: provides chapter introductions, summaries, key topics, and review questions; includes an introduction to analogue and digital computers, and to the foundations of computing; examines the contributions of ancient civilisations to the field of computing; covers the first digital computers, and the earliest commercial computers, mainframes and minicomputers; describes the early development of the integrated circuit and the microprocessor; reviews the emergence of home computers; discusses the creation of the Internet, the invention of the smartphone, and the rise of social media; presents a short history of telecommunications, programming languages, operating systems, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and databases.

Table of Contents

1. What Is a Computer?

Abstract
This chapter provides an introduction to computing, and a computer is a programmable electronic device that can process, store and retrieve data. It processes data according to a set of instructions (or program), and all computers consist of two basic parts, namely, hardware and software. There are two distinct families of computing devices, namely, digital computers and the historical analog computer. These two types of computer operate on quite different principles, and the earliest computers were analog. We discuss the von Neumann architecture, which is the fundamental architecture underlying a digital computer.
Gerard O’Regan

2. Computing in Early Civilizations

Abstract
This chapter considers the contributions of early civilizations to the computing field, including the achievements of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and the Islamic world. The Babylonian civilization flourished in Mesopotamia (in modern Iraq) from about 2000 B.C. until about 300 B.C., and they made important contributions to mathematics. The Egyptian civilization developed along the Nile from about 4000 B.C., and their knowledge of mathematics allowed them to construct the pyramids at Giza as well as other impressive monuments. The Greeks made major contributions to Western civilization including mathematics, logic and philosophy. The golden age of Islamic civilization was from 750 A.D. to 1250 A.D., and during this period enlightened caliphs recognized the value of knowledge and sponsored scholars to come to Baghdad to gather and translate the existing world knowledge into Arabic.
Gerard O’Regan

3. Foundations of Computing

Abstract
This chapter discusses the foundations of computing, including the binary number system and the step reckoner calculating machine, which were invented by Leibniz. The difference engine was designed by Babbage to evaluate polynomials and to produce accurate mathematical tables. Babbage’s design of the analytic engine provided the vision of a modern computer, and he envisaged that it would be analogous to the operation of the Jacquard loom, which is designed to weave (i.e. execute on the loom) a design pattern represented by a set of cards. Boole’s symbolic logic provides the foundation for digital computing.
Gerard O’Regan

4. The First Digital Computers

Abstract
The Second World War motivated researchers to investigate faster ways to perform calculation to solve practical problems. This led to research into the development of digital computers to determine if they could provide faster methods of computation. We discuss the first digital computers including the Atanasoff-Berry computer developed in the United States, the ENIAC and EDVAC developed in the United States, the Colossus computer developed in England, Zuse’s computers developed in Germany and the Manchester Mark I computer developed in England.
Gerard O’Regan

5. The First Commercial Computers

Abstract
This chapter discusses the first commercial computers including the UNIVAC I developed by EMCC/Sperry in the United States for the US Census Bureau and the LEO I computer developed by J. Lyons and Co. in England in partnership with Maurice Wilkes of Cambridge University. The Z4 computer was developed by Zuse KG in Germany, and the Ferranti Mark I computer was developed by Ferranti in partnership with the University of Manchester.
Gerard O’Regan

6. Early Commercial Computers and the Invention of the Transistor

Abstract
This chapter considers a selection of computers developed during the 1950s, and it includes a selection of vacuum tube-based computers as well as transistor computers. One of the drivers for the design and development of more powerful computers was the perceived threat of the Soviet Union. This led to an arms race between the two superpowers, and it was clear that computing technology would play an important role in developing sophisticated weapon and defence systems. The SAGE air defence system developed for the United States and Canada was an early example of the use of computer technology for the military. Early IBM computers such as the IBM 701 and 704 computers are discussed, and the chapter concludes with a discussion of the invention of the transistor by William Shockley and others at Bell Labs.
Gerard O’Regan

7. The Invention of the Integrated Circuit and the Birth of Silicon Valley

Abstract
The invention of the integrated circuit allowed many transistors to be combined on a single chip, and it was another revolution in computing. The integrated circuit placed the previously separated transistors, resistors, capacitors and wiring circuitry onto a single chip made of silicon or germanium. The integrated circuit shrunk the size and cost of making electronics, and it had a major influence on the design of later computers leading to faster and more powerful machines. The germanium-based integrated circuit was invented by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments, and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor did subsequent work on silicon-based integrated circuits. Moore’s law on the exponential growth of transistor density on an integrated circuit is discussed, as well as its relevance to the computing power of electronic devices.
Gerard O’Regan

8. The IBM System/360

Abstract
The IBM System/360 was a family of mainframe computers designed and developed by IBM. It had a major impact on technology and on the computing field, and it set IBM on the road to dominate the computing field for the next 20 years, up to the arrival of personal computers in the 1980s. The user could start with a low specification member of the family and upgrade over time to a more powerful member of the family. It was the start of an era of computer compatibility, and it set IBM on the road to dominate the computing field. It was a massive $5 billion gamble by IBM, and it moved the company from its existing product lines to the unknown world of the System/360.
Gerard O’Regan

9. Minicomputers and Later Mainframes

Abstract
The minicomputer was a new class of low-cost computers that arose during the 1960s, and its development was facilitated by the introduction of integrated circuits and their improved performance and declining cost. Minicomputers were distinguished from the large mainframe computers by price and size, and they formed a class of the smallest general-purpose computers. We discuss minicomputers such as DEC’s PDP-1, PDP-11 and VAX-11/780 minicomputers, which were popular with the engineering and scientific communities. DEC became the second largest computer company in the world in the late 1980s, but it was too slow in reacting to the rise of the microprocessor and the revolution in home computers. Later mainframes are discussed including the Amdahl 470V/6 and the intense competition between IBM and Amdahl in the high-end mainframe market.
Gerard O’Regan

10. The Microprocessor Revolution

Abstract
A microprocessor is a central part of a modern personal computer (or computer device). It integrates the functions of a central processing unit (the part of a computer that processes the program instructions) onto a single integrated circuit and places a vast amount of processing power in a tiny space.
Intel’s invention of the microprocessor in 1971 was a revolution in computing, and it placed the power of a computer on a tiny chip. It was initially developed as an enhancement to allow users to add more memory to their units. However, it soon became clear that the microprocessor had great potential for everything from calculators to cash registers and traffic lights. Its invention made personal computers, tablets and mobile phones possible.
We discuss early microprocessors such as the Intel 4004, the 8-bit Intel 8080 and the 8-bit Motorola 6800. The 16-bit Intel 8086 was introduced in 1978 and the 16/32-bit Motorola 68000 was released in 1979. The 8-bit Intel 8088 (the cheaper 8-bit variant of the Intel 8086) was introduced in 1979, and it was chosen as the microprocessor for the IBM personal computer.
Gerard O’Regan

11. Home Computers

Abstract
We consider a selection of home and personal computers, including early home computers such as the MITS Altair 8800, which was introduced in early 1975; the Apple I and II computers, which were released in 1976 and 1977, respectively; the Commodore PET computer, which was introduced in 1977; the Atari 400 and 800 computers, which were released in 1979; the popular Commodore 64 computer, which was introduced in 1982; and the Sinclair ZX 81 and ZX Spectrum computers, which were released in 1980 and 1981, respectively. We discuss later Atari and Amiga computers and the Apple Macintosh computer, which was a major milestone in computing.
Gerard O’Regan

12. The IBM Personal Computer

Abstract
We discuss the introduction of the IBM personal computer, which was a major milestone in the computing field. The introduction of the IBM personal computer was a paradigm shift in that it placed computing power in the hands of millions of people. The previous paradigm was that an individual user had limited control over a computer, with the system administrators controlling the access privileges of the individual users. IBM’s goal was to get into the home computer market as quickly as possible, and this led IBM to build the machine from off-the-shelf parts from a number of equipment manufacturers. IBM outsourced the development of the operating system to a small company called Microsoft, and Intel was chosen to supply the microprocessor for the IBM PC. Intel and Microsoft later became technology giants. The open architecture of the IBM PC led to a new industry of IBM-compatible computers.
Gerard O’Regan

13. A Short History of Telecommunications

Abstract
Telecommunications is a branch of technology concerned with the transmission of information over a distance, where the transmitter sends the information to a receiver. We present a short history of telecommunications and focus on the development of mobile phone technology. The development of the AXE system by Ericsson is discussed, and this was the first fully automated digital switching system. We discuss the concept of a cellular system, which was introduced by Bell Labs, as well as the introduction of the first mobile phone, the DynaTAC, by Motorola. We discuss the Iridium system, which was launched in late 1998 to provide worldwide wireless coverage to its customers, and the coverage included the oceans, airways and polar regions. The existing telecom systems had limited coverage in remote areas, and so the concept of global coverage as provided by Iridium was potentially very useful. In many ways, Iridium was an engineering triumph over common sense, and over $5 billion was spent in building an infrastructure of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide global coverage.
Gerard O’Regan

14. The Internet Revolution

Abstract
This chapter describes the Internet revolution starting from ARPANET, which was a packet-switched network, to TCP/IP, which is a set of network standards for interconnecting networks and computers. These developments led to the birth of the Internet, and Tim Berners-Lee’s work at CERN led to the birth of the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee built on several existing inventions such as the Internet, hypertext and the mouse to form the World Wide Web. Applications of the World Wide Web are discussed, as well as successful and unsuccessful new economy companies. The dot-com bubble and subsequent burst of the late 1990s/early 2000 are discussed.
Gerard O’Regan

15. The Smartphone and Social Media

Abstract
A smartphone contains advanced computing capabilities that are attractive to users, and it arose as the outcome of the marriage of the existing mobile phone technology and PDA technology. A smartphone is more than a mobile device for making and receiving calls, and it is essentially a touch-based computer on a phone, which comes with its own keyboard, operating system, Internet access and third-party applications. It provides many other features such as a camera, maps, calendar, alarm clock and games. Today, the smartphone is ubiquitous.
We discuss the impact of Facebook and Twitter in social networking. Facebook is the leading social media site in the world, and it has become a way for young people to discuss their hopes and aspirations as well as a tool for social protest and revolution. Twitter has become a popular tool in political communication, and it is also an effective way for businesses to advertise its brand to its target audience.
Gerard O’Regan

16. History of Programming Languages

Abstract
This chapter presents a short history of programming languages, starting with machine languages, to assembly languages, to early high-level procedural languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL, to later high-level languages such as Pascal and C and to object-oriented languages such as C++ and Java. Functional programming languages and logic programming languages are discussed, and there is a short discussion on the important area of syntax and semantics.
Gerard O’Regan

17. History of Operating Systems

Abstract
This chapter presents a short history of operating systems including the IBM OS/360, which was the operating system for the IBM System/360 family of computers. We discuss the MVS and VM operating systems, which were used on the IBM System/370 mainframe computer. Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie developed the popular UNIX operating system at Bell Labs in the early 1970s. This is a multi-user and multitasking operating system and was written almost entirely in C. DEC developed the VAX/VMS operating system in the late 1970s for its VAX family of minicomputers. Microsoft developed MS/DOS for the IBM personal computer in 1981, and it introduced Windows as a response to the Apple Macintosh. There is a short discussion on Android and iOS, which are popular operating systems for mobile devices.
Gerard O’Regan

18. History of Software Engineering

Abstract
This chapter presents a short history of software engineering from its birth at the Garmisch conference in Germany. The IEEE definition of software engineering is discussed, and it is emphasized that software engineering is a lot more than just programming. We discuss the key challenges in software engineering, as well a number of the high-profile software failures. The waterfall and spiral life cycles are discussed, as well a brief discussion on the Rational Unified Process and the popular Agile methodology. We discuss the key activities in the waterfall model such as requirements, design, implementation, unit, system and acceptance testing.
Gerard O’Regan

19. History of Artificial Intelligence

Abstract
This chapter presents a short history of artificial intelligence, and we discuss the Turing Test, which is a test of machine intelligence. We discuss strong and weak AI, where strong AI considers an AI programmed computer to be essentially a mind, whereas weak AI considers a computer to simulate thought without real understanding. We discuss Searle’s Chinese room, which is a rebuttal of strong AI, and we discuss philosophical issues in AI and Weizenbaum’s views on the ethics of AI. There are many subfields in AI and we discuss logic, neural networks and expert systems.
Gerard O’Regan

20. History of Databases

Abstract
We present a short history of databases including the hierarchical model, the network model and the relational model. We discuss the relational model as developed by Codd at IBM in more detail, as most databases used today are relational. There is a short discussion on the SQL and on the Oracle database.
Gerard O’Regan
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