Saturday, June 7, 2008


The early foundations of what would become computer science predate the invention of the modern digital computer. Machines for calculating fixed numerical tasks, such as the abacus, have existed since antiquity. Wilhelm Schickard built the first mechanical calculator in 1623.[4] Charles Babbage designed a difference engine in Victorian times (between 1837 and 1901)[5] helped by Ada Lovelace.[6] Around 1900, the IBM corporation sold punch-card machines.[7] However, all of these machines were constrained to perform a single task, or at best some subset of all possible tasks.

During the 1940s, as newer and more powerful computing machines were developed, the term computer came to refer to the machines rather than their human predecessors. As it became clear that computers could be used for more than just mathematical calculations, the field of computer science broadened to study computation in general. Computer science began to be established as a distinct academic discipline in the 1960s, with the creation of the first computer science departments and degree programs.[8] Since practical computers became available, many applications of computing have become distinct areas of study in their own right.

Many initially believed it impossible that "computers themselves could actually be a scientific field of study" (Levy 1984, p. 11), though it was in the "late fifties" (Levy 1984, p.11) that it gradually became accepted among the greater academic population. It is the now well-known IBM brand that formed part of the computer science revolution during this time. IBM (short for International Business Machines) released the IBM 704 and later the IBM 709 computers, which were widely used during the exploration period of such devices. "Still, working with the IBM [computer] was frustrating...if you had misplaced as much as one letter in one instruction, the program would crash, and you would have to start the whole process over again" (Levy 1984, p.13). During the late 1950s, the computer science discipline was very much in its developmental stages, and such issues were commonplace.

Time has seen significant improvements in the useability and effectiveness of computer science technology. Modern society has seen a significant shift from computers being used solely by experts or professionals to more a more widespread user base. By the 1990s, computers became accepted as being the norm within everyday life. During this time data entry was a primary component of the use of computers, many preferring to streamline their business practices through the use of a computer. This also gave the additional benefit of removing the need of large amounts of documentation and file records which consumed much-needed physical space within offices.