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

Early computers 2 - like a living thing

Context

1970. A description of a large, early computer.

Current day personal computers (or 'PCs') are vastly different to the early computers described here. The modern PC was made possible by the development of the microprocessor in the early 1970s.

Microprocessor technology meant that a single computer chip could contain all the circuitry that previously occupied the large cabinets mentioned in this report.

Early PCs were initially sold by mail order in kit form, which proved to be a great success and inspired electronics firms to manufacture and sell them. In the mid 1970s, two programmer-engineers set up a new computer manufacturing company called Apple and in 1977 introduced the world's first personal computer.

Further developments in the late 70s and 80s improved the speed and functionality of PCs to the range of computers we have today - for home and office and even on the move, in the form of desktop, laptop, pocket and tablet computers.

The image shows the computer complex run by a large bank (exact date unknown).

Transcript

That's the voice of a computer. Bootstrap memory capacity options, partial word transfer, cascading index addressing, nanosecond scratchpad storage, core memory write-protection. And that's the language of the computer types. I wish I understood what it was all about. Three computer experts with infinite patience tried to explain, in terms as non-technical as they could, how a computer functions.

Well, I have to report that they had about a 90% failure. But I'll tell you what the whole set-up looked to a non-mathematician. After my preliminary briefing, or maybe it should have been 'brainwashing', I was shepherded into the presence...into the computer room. It was about three times the size of an average lounge and people at what looked like large filing cabinets, some with flickering lights which were going mad, some with glass fronts behind which tapes were whirling back and forth, and the rest with tightly shut doors, which could have housed coats or the tea-brewing utensils, but which apparently were the homes of memories and mass storage units.

This system here in Birmingham is the largest computer service under one roof in Europe. And although only five people, and they were all surprisingly young, were attending to the needs of the monster, the firm has 400 on the payroll, pre-digesting the fodder which the machine gobbles up. And once an operative has had some experience of working a computer, even a simple one, he or she needs only 3 weeks training to understand the foibles of this monster...

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.

'War Horse' by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse

All 10 episodes of Michael Morpurgo's famous story are now available to listen to online.

'Carrie's War' by Nina Bawden

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden

Carrie's War

Catch up on 'Carrie's War' by Nina Bawden. All 10 episodes are now available to listen to online.

Perform our School Musicals

Perform our School Musicals

School Musicals

Our performance scripts for 9 to 11s, complete with music, songs and special effects to download.

Our brand new Macbeth pages!

Macbeth videos for mobile and tablet

Macbeth - the musical

Check out our new pages for our Macbeth musical with 8 songs to learn! See the Teacher Notes.

Curriculum for Excellence

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.