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Great Inventions December 28, 2007

Posted by gcorbin in Commentary.
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            Great inventions in history are very rare. Over the past century, there have been many inventions, but how many can we really say are great? I like to define an invention as great based on the overall impact that it has on the world. If an invention improves the lives of the majority of the people of the world, then I’d say it’s great. With this definition, I’d say that there are only about a dozen inventions within the last century that meets this requirement.  Most would agree that the automobile, airplane, and light bulb would meet these requirements. All three of these items drastically changed the world. The automobile and airplane made the world a smaller place and the light bulb brought an end to the stranglehold that the night has had on us since the dawn of time. Now how about the computer? Could we say that it meets the requirements of a great invention? I’d say yes. While the automobile and airplane made the world a smaller place, the computer has brought us all a lot closer. Everything from communications to financial transactions can be done between two people on the opposite sides of the world in an instant. Like the automobile, airplane, and light bulb the computer exists in every facet of our lives. We have them integrated in everything from coffee makers to internal deliberation devices that help extend some peoples lives. If we were to ask who invented these great things? Most people would easily identify the automobile, airplane and light bulb to Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, and Thomas Edison respectively. (They’d be wrong, but that’s another topic). But how about the computer? Who invent that? Some people would guess IBM, which it’s not. Most people would not be able to put an individual name to this invention. So who was it? The answer to this question is the source of intense controversy. In the early 1940’s, there was a lot of work happening to create the first digital computer. Many Scientists and engineers were working on this goal from all points of the globe. Many of them had similar ideas and concepts, but who was the first? Based on my reading, the first all digital computing machine was built by two men named, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. It was called the ENIAC, which stood for, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. The history of these two men and there great invention is amazing. It’s the story of enormous trials and sacrifices in order to give birth to the computer age. Unfortunately, for the two of them, the immense sacrifices required of them ultimately lead to the ruin, but not before their new invention had taken hold.

        I’d highly recommend that anyone working in the computer industry take the time to learn its history. When learning about the difficult tasks that the founding fathers of the computer age had to endure and solve, it tends to make some of the issues we face today seem trivial. Like all other fields of science, its much easier to see where the future of the field is going, if you know where its been.