In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Early computers 1

Context

1955. Description of an early computer.

No single machine can claim to be the first computer. However, the work of the 19th century the UK mathematician and philosopher, Charles Babbage, certainly anticipated the creation of computers.

Babbage was concerned by the human error that occurred in mathematical calculations and had the idea of building a device that would eradicate them. He called it the 'Analytical Engine'.

From 1833-1842 Babbage worked on developing a machine that stored programs on punched cards, although it was never actually built.

In the 1930s and 1940s an another UK mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, conceived the Turing Machine, another mathematical tool, which formed the basis for computer science. All subsequent digital computers are to some degree dependent on Turing's work.

The first electronic computers were large and costly, and were used for mainly military purposes during World War 2, e.g. the code-breaking machine, 'Colossus'. At this time there was little or no notion that computers could or would be used by individuals for either work or recreation.

Early computers stored data on punched card. Those that stored programs in their own memory were developed in the late 1940s and were the predecessors of the modern computer. However, it was the development of the microprocessor in the 1970s that led to the rapid development of computer technology, paving the way for the affordable personal computer.

The images show part of an early computer, pictured in 1955 and the computer complex run by a large bank (exact date unknown).

Transcript

I'm standing by the control panel. Before me stretches the machine. Size? Well, I suppose it's about the size...it would just tuck perhaps into the smallest bedroom in a 3-bedroom house. There are doors along each side, which when opened, reveal a mass of wires and connections. To me, artistic, because they're so neat, so tidy, so obviously going somewhere, shall I say?

The control panel in front of me carries neat tidy rows of switches and of indicator lights. To the left is the input machine, which interprets...which takes in cards, rather bigger than postcards, punched with holes in certain positions, which are, if you like, the language that the machine speaks. But the great point is, that whatever calculations it's asked to do, it performs in a flash, literally in a flash - quick as a flash of lightning, no matter how complex it is.

Programmes to download

Programmes to download at any time

Download programmes

A collection of programmes to download as mp3 files at any time. Includes dance and music.

Podcasts

Podcasts

Current podcasts

See all School Radio and other Learning podcasts available from the BBC Podcast Directory.

Contact us

Contact us

Contact us

We are always pleased to receive your feedback, suggestions and pupils' work.

100 years since World War 1

WW1 Performance Pack

WW1 Performance Pack

Commemorate 100 years since WW1 by staging our specially-written play 'Archie Dobson's War'.

Private Peaceful - listen now!

Click to listen to Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful

All 13 episodes of Michael Morpurgo's moving WW1 story are available to listen to online.

Teacher's notes

Teacher's Notes

Online Teacher's Notes

Notes to support the programmes including details of all the series content.