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ENIAC was first, right?

Well, no. Many of us who went to school and have degrees in various computer related fields instantly think of ENIAC as the first “computer”, but we’re all wrong. We know some of you are already familiar with the Atanasoff-Berry computer, and we are too… now. However, when we learned about it, it was long after our school lessons were over, and it felt like learning Santa wasn’t real, or the pilgrims didn’t really have a fancy dinner with the native Americans. [Jane Smiley] is releasing a book telling the whole story, and it should be fairly interesting. She gave an interview with Wired about the book. In the interview she talks about how fascinating the story is and even addresses [Alan Turing]‘s role.

Comments

  1. nah! says:

    lol zuse z1 was first computer, get over it

  2. jeditalian says:

    in school it was the shit charles babbage designed. and ada lovelace or whatever, although they didn’t build it, or did they?

  3. matt says:

    The Computer History Museum has a few videos on YouTube about the Atanasoff-Berry Computer:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qundvme1Tik (starting at 20:53)

  4. Chris W says:

    Yes, the Babbage Analytical Engine was the “first”, and no, they never buit a working model while he was alive. I do believe that a musiume or numversity in England had built one in 2006 or so though.

  5. tg says:

    @nah!: Almost, the z1 was a mechanical device so it doesn’t qualify as a computer. The Zuse z3 (1941) was the first “real” computer but didn’t get credit because it was not a universal Turing machine…although I just read that in 1998 someone found out that it is with a few workarounds.

    That story stroke me first in 1999 when I was in the US (I am from Germany) and was told that the Eniac was the first computer. In Europe we learn it is the Z3….I guess both is right in a way and it depends on how you define “computer”

  6. Domonoky says:

    zuses z1, a mechanical computer, was the first.. but that probably depends on the definition of “computer”. :-)

  7. razor says:

    There’s also the Colossus machines from WWII in Bletchley Park that were “programmable” in some senses, the details of which were only declassified in 2007. I read a book on it. Many of the people who worked on them couldn’t talk about it up to the day they died because of how long Britain kept it a secret.

  8. razor says:
  9. mic says:

    Abacus.

  10. Chris says:

    antikythera anyone?

  11. Kyle says:

    you have to define your terms. the atanasoff-berry computer was not programmable, the z3 was not fully electronic, etc. it’s meaningless to say x was the first “computer” because that could mean anything.

  12. Kris Lee says:

    Come on. This is not a computer. This is a mere calculator at most. But it is still very cool.

  13. Drew says:

    The REAL first computer was the abacus :P.

  14. Chris says:

    nay! the human brain!

  15. tbase says:

    Do I get geek cred for owning UNIVAC parts?

  16. Jon says:

    This was decided in court in favor of Atanasoff, even with the legal might of the Sperry-Rand Corp against him. Mauchley took many of ideas used in the ABC after visiting the lab in Iowa. Look out for an earlier book “Atanasoff: forgotten father of the computer” that covers this same story. I did a review of it over a decade ago for HiR ezine.

  17. h_2_o says:

    pretty much every prof i ever had agreed with the above statements that the first real computer was the abacus. So that’s where i stand.

  18. Abacus-Schmabacus says:

    I would not call the abacus a computer; merely a memory aid for computations. I would not classify it as a computational machine as I would the Babbage engine and modern silicon processors. I can’t comment re: antikythera mechanism since I don’t know anything about it.

    However, what about all the other books on this topic?

    Also, @razor: what book is that? It’s not the one mentioned in this article.

    “The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer”
    ISBN:0385527136

  19. Simon says:

    You are all wrong. *I* am the first REAL computer.

  20. Doc Oct says:

    http://www.philipcoppens.com/antikythera.html first real computer haha…

  21. Joe says:

    Go Clones!

    I thought that “the lawsuit” was between Honeywell and Sperry-Rand, with Sperry-Rand demanding royalty payments from Honeywell, and Honeywell basically responding that the Sperry-Rand patents were fraudulent since the ABC computer was prior art. I don’t know if Atanasoff actually benefited from the suit, other than the bragging rights of being first.

  22. Whatnot says:

    I heard the first electronic computer was made by a german (Konrad Zuse), but it’s hard to tell because each country claims one of theirs invented it, and I’m sure in russia they will tell you a russian pioneered it and in britain they maintain it was a brit and czechoslovakia they will tell you it’s a chech..

  23. Whatnot says:
  24. Jeditalian says:

    so, i’m guessing that only computers built by ‘humans’ count.. because there were advanced computers involved in genetic programming/design which were used in the population of this muddyrock we call Earth.

  25. Aye says:

    Zuse.

    No doubt :)

  26. clockwork says:

    @Whatnot: czechoslovakia? really? on which planet have you been the last 20 years??!?

    and its the z1, big dot.

  27. Stephen Berry says:

    The Z3 was turing complete.

    Zuse talked a lot to von Braun,
    who after the war talked a lot to Berry.

    Guess that’s just coincidence and we’ll never know the truth, now the main players are dead.

    How is it that everybody can publish “history” books without a basic fact check?

  28. manchester63 says:

    Amongst programmers it is generally acknowledged that the Manchester University Small Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) or ‘baby’ was the first fully programmable digital electronic stored-program computer to be operational. As such it was the first computer in the modern
    sense.

    The key development was that the program was stored entirely within electonic memory and could be changed under program control.

    http://www.computer50.org/mark1/new.baby.html

    has more details. Quoting the site:

    “The first program to run successfully, on June 21st 1948, was to determine the highest factor of a number. The number chosen was quite small, but within days they had built up to trying the program on 2^18, and the correct answer was found in 52 minutes, involving about 2.1 million instructions with about 3½ million store accesses.”

    Afficionados of retro computing might also like to check out:

    though, note that the machine depicted is a modern replica not the original.

    While Turing was not directly involved in the construction of the SSEM parts of one of the original Collossus machines are understood to have unofficially found their way into the baby.

    ENIAC, Collosus, the Zuse Z3 and the ABC were not fully programmable computers.

  29. hubert says:

    Z1 was not mechanical, it electromechanical and used Relays, but it was not programmeable.
    Z3 was the first programmeable Zuse Computer/Calculator.
    Z4 was the first commercial sold.
    Here an interesting Link, sorry, only german language: http://www.hnf.de/Dauerausstellung/1._Obergeschoss/Die_Erfindung_des_Computers/Die_Erfindung_des_Computers.asp?highmain=3&highsub=3&highsubsub=3

  30. msc says:

    @h_2_o please tell me you’re joking.

  31. lwatcdr says:

    I would have to say that the first computer as we all think of computers was the Manchester Baby and the EDSAC
    The Z3 lacked a conditional branch.
    The ABC was not programmable it was single purpose.
    And so on. Each lacked something part of what it takes to be a real computer.
    The Manchester Baby was the first to put it all together.
    Then was that EVERY one of those machines where all part of the making the first computer. In other words the computer has many fathers.

  32. Kris Lee says:

    Now Germans have said that their computer is the first and Americans and Brits too. Where are the Russians?

  33. asheets says:

    ABC was first, but then again, I’m a proud Iowa State alum (and I spent a lot of VAX time in Atanasoff Hall).

  34. feep says:

    The earth is the first computer. Mice built it.

  35. GCL says:

    @all
    The Colossus built by Turing was indeed programmable. It had to be to be, to match the continuing changes in the code that the Nazis were using at the time. And it did change, slowly. By the end of the war, and with the help of the code books recovered from the one U-boat that was recovered relatively intact, they did confirm that the code was in fact the same-thing that was broken and badly. But the Poles did succeed in one area, they provided an actual machine that the Allies copied to provide, ah, food for the Bletchley Park gang. Well maybe not copied, but they did work out how it worked.

  36. cantido says:

    @Chris W

    Thomas Fowler managed to get his mechanical adding machine going before Babbage. But didn’t want to show it to anyone because everyone ripped off his previous invention… basically modern central heating.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Fowler_(inventor)

  37. captain says:

    The human brain is the first computer. God created it, I heard.

    It does some fucked up and scary things sometimes, but it is quite advanced.

    Name another machine that can hold a consciousness or ‘soul’?

    Hmm.

  38. Rapist you know you are says:

    antikythera anyone?

    +1

  39. InaComputer says:

    ENIAC (Electronic Numeric Integrator And Calculator) is electronic machine was desinged by Dr. John W. Mauchly nad Dr. J. Presper Eckert. It was built form 18000 vacuum tubes, and 700000 resistor. Its power consuming capacity was 5000000 kilowalt. It was set up on 1800 square feet of flor space. ENIAC operated on punch card, which were the input/output device had one multiplier, one divider/square rooter and twenty adder. It was a very fast machine compared to the eariler elecromechanical machine. It could add two numbers in 200 microsecond and multication of two numbers in 2800 microsecond.

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