Few realize that the first of five pivotal moments in the history of the computer science field occurred thousands of years ago when computers did not really enter common use until the 1990s. However, computer science has a long and storied history even if it has experienced a meteoric rise in the past couple of decades.
~2500 B.C. – The Abacus
The first known computing device was developed around this time. It is believed to have been first used in present-day Iraq, but it was utilized all over Europe and Asia during this time period too. In fact, it is still used today in some parts of China and Japan. The focus of this pivotal moment in computer science history is a piece of metal, stone or wood that holds grooved lines on which circular pieces like beads or pebbles are moved from one side to the other to keep count of something.
1800s – Babbage and Lovelace
Although Charles Babbage (1791-1871) and Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) were unable to see their ideas became a reality in their lifetimes, they did set the foundation for many computer programming developments that happened afterwards. In his 20s, Babbage started designing calculators that could initially go out to eight decimal points and then 20. He later met Lovelace, who was widely regarded as a mathematical genius; she designed the first computer algorithm that could compute Bernoulli numbers. In 2002, the first Babbage Engine was finally completed. It is 11 feet long, weighs 5 tons and consists of 8,000 parts.
1902 – Dumaresq
Another pivotal moment in the history of the computer science field occurred when analog computers were initially developed and used. The first of the modern era was the Dumaresq, which was invented in 1902. This fire-control system used rotating and sliding dials and bars to calculate range and deflection data between one’s own ship and a target ship. It could also determine another ship’s heading and speed. Ten years later, Arthur Pollen advanced upon that development by inventing a similar machine but one that was electrically driven.
1936 – Turing Machine
Alan Turing, who is known as the “Father of Computer Science,” invented the Turing Machine in 1936, although he did not see his device in physical form either. However, the theory behind it, like the Babbage Engine, led to many future advancements in the computer science field. This abstract machine simulated the logic that could be used by not-yet-constructed computers and determined if a computer could be designed to solve a particular problem or not. The concept of stored programs, the ability to store instructions in electronic memory, was also developed by Turing.
1974 – Altair 8800
This computer was the first to be designed for home use that became commercially successful, making this the tipping point as far as mass use of computers go and one of the pivotal moments in computing history. It was featured on the cover of a copy of Popular Electronics that was published in November 1974, and sales quickly surpassed the expectations of its developers. What made this computer so attractive to prospective buyers was because people interested in owning a computer prior to that point had to buy the individual parts separately and use plans and designs to assemble it themselves.
It is incredible to imagine how something as relatively simple as the abacus would end up developing into the powerful machines that we have today. Of course, a list of the 5 pivotal moments in the history of the computer science field is not going to be a comprehensive one, but these were moments that forever changed this field.