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Our Reliance On Computers

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"The society in which we live in has been so profoundly affected by computers that historians refer to the present time as the information age." (Presley, 16) Comments like this show how computers have changed how we live, work, and play. For example, combined with the Internet, computers have incorporated many forms of communications into a universal one. The computer's role in the world continues to grow in importance even as we sometimes take it for granted. We must realize how greatly computers have affected our lives. Computers have become such an integral part of our lives because we rely on them for numerical calculations, storage of data, communication, and technological processes.

The idea of computing began at the start of civilization. The computer's long history makes it, "... one of the most interesting and important machines ever invented" (Anonymous). Computers are simply complex counting devices. The abacus was an ancient computer which used beads to solve math problems. The abacus was strictly manual and the desire for an automated machine grew. One of the earliest automated machines was invented in the nineteenth century when French weaver, Joseph Jacquard, created a loom that could be programmed. Large hole punched cards were used by the loom to create geometric patterns. Aside from producing beautiful patterns, the punched cards were later modified to become the main form of computer input. The system of punch cards led to the first successful semi-automated computer, a punch-card tabulating machine invented during the 1880s by American Herman Hollerith. It was used to tabulate the results of the U.S. census. Each punch card contained the data of each individual. Operators fed the countless cards into the computer. When the spring-mounted nails of the computer passed through the holes of the punch-card, an electric circuit was completed. As seen in diagram C, the results of each card were displayed on rows of dials. Hollerith's company, the Tabulating Machine Company, was eventually sold and was renamed the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1911, which still exists today. The first electronic computers were very large and elaborate machines that required a lot of money to build and use. The entire computer industry might never have taken off without government funding. World War II created a need for the U.S. military to calculate missile trajectories quickly, so Dr. John Machly was hired by the military to build a machine for this task. Although intended to be completed and used during the war, the ENIAC (Electric Numeric Integrator and Calculator) was finished two weeks after the war ended. ENIAC was a big step towards the next generation of computers as it was the first to store its program in internal memory with the data. The first generation of computers including the ENIAC used vacuum tubes. They were also very large, slow, and produced lots of heat. The vacuum tubes failed quite often so it was not uncommon for the computers to be out of order. The data and instructions were still inputted from punched cards as seen in diagram B.

The second generation of computers was strongly based on the invention of the transistor. Refer to diagram D to understand how the transistor works. Computers were now faster, smaller, and more reliable than ever before. These computers could also store data on magnetic disks. A huge breakthrough was computers could communicate with each other over telephone lines. Although rather slow a new way of exchanging data and ideas was born. The second generation of computers was quickly replaced with the third generation with the invention of the first integrated circuit. Integrated circuits contained numerous transistors and circuits on a wafer or chip of silicon. The new computer chip produced minicomputers in 1965. The prices of computers were finally affordable for smaller companies. Another significant breakthrough during this generation was the launch of the first telecommunications satellite. This enabled computer systems worldwide to interchange data. The fourth generation of computers further advanced capabilities. Intel designed the Intel 4004, the world's first microprocessor. The microprocessor was a single chip that contained the entire 'brains' of a computer. As seen in diagram A, the microprocessor is a fairly complex device. It wasn't until the late 1970s did microcomputers take off. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple Computers, produced the Apple I and the Apple II computer systems. These computers included a keyboard, floppy drive, monitor and operating system. Until then, computers had been only used by businesses. The Apple computers spawned the personal market of computers. IBM was quick to react to the promising microcomputer market. They teamed up with Microsoft to create the IBM Personal Computer (PC). Computers today, although much more advanced, are still based on fourth generation technology.

The initial purpose of the computer was to make numerical calculations automated. Most people today take for granted the fact that computers process their numerical calculations for them. There is no better example of this than the pocket calculator. Used throughout the world, calculators are heavily relied on. Whether it be accountants, students, bankers, or carpenters, many people find the calculator is very important. The amount of time that the calculator has saved people is priceless. Computers are also very important in the field of civil engineering. Designing any building involves solving various complicated mathematical problems. In order for a building to be structurally sound, the calculations must be perfect. Computers rarely make mistakes solving numerical problems, while humans are always susceptible of making an error. It only makes sense to double check a human's answer to a problem with a computer. The reasons behind structural problems stems from mathematical mistakes (Levy, 198). The better engineers use computers in designing buildings, the safer they will become. Computers are integral to numerical calculations because they save time and are extremely accurate.

The importance of being able to store digital data on computers is huge, especially for businesses. The millions of customers of some companies means a lot of data. Since all data on computer is digital, customer information can be modified, created, deleted, sorted, and found very easily. It would be impossible for a business to manage all of their data without computers. Time is money to businesses. An employee wastes less time looking for data using a computer, because any data an employee needs can be accessed within seconds. The home user also benefits from data storage. The storage capacities of most personal computers is amazing.



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