Looking back on Shi Hai: The first computer was born on Valentine’s Day (Figure)

Special topic: picture channel


  Dr. Moakley (Source: World Wide Web)


    The world’s first electronic computer "Eniac"

  On February 14, 1946, at Moore Institute of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, there was a festive atmosphere everywhere. Many guests come here with excitement, because they will attend the unveiling ceremony of the first modern electronic computer in human history. What is presented to people is a monster with a strange shape and shining all over. It is the world’s first modern electronic computer "ENIAC". This monster covers an area of 170 square meters and weighs 30 tons. At the unveiling ceremony, "Eniac" performed its "unique trick" for the guests-5000 additions and 500 multiplications were performed in one second, which was more than 1000 times faster than the fastest relay computer at that time. This perfect appearance made the guests applaud. However, who knows, in the process of the birth of this behemoth, how many people have devoted countless efforts to it!

  A monster born of war.

  Although the emergence of electronic computer is only 60 years, its birth is the accumulation of hundreds of years of human efforts. As early as the 17th century, a group of European mathematicians began to develop computers. In 1642, in order to assist his father, who was the director of taxation, Pascal, a 19-year-old French mathematician, successfully built the first mechanical computer with a clock gear, but he could only do addition and subtraction. On this basis, the German mathematician Leibniz invented a computer that can do multiplication and division in 1678. However, the performance of these mechanical computers is too backward to meet people’s needs. More than a hundred years later, the British mathematician Babbage designed a more advanced computer in 1822. Unfortunately, Babbage’s design could not be realized because of the limited industrial level at that time.

  In the next 100 years, mankind has made great progress in the fields of electromagnetism, electrotechnics and electronics, laying a solid foundation for the emergence of electronic computers. After the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Army Ordnance Department set up a "Ballistic Research Laboratory" in Aberdeen, Maryland to research and develop new artillery. The extremely heavy computing task is a big headache for the researchers there. Although the laboratory employs more than 200 computing Aauto Quicker, it is still stretched. They urgently need a new computing machine to improve work efficiency. Just when people were at their wits’ end, Dr. Moakley from Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania put forward the idea of trial-producing the first electronic computer. His idea attracted the Army Ordnance Department, who immediately asked Moore College to draw up a development plan.

  According to the scientists’ estimation, the cost of manufacturing an electronic computer was $150,000, which was a huge sum at that time, so it was resolutely opposed by many people in the military. Seeing that the plan to develop an electronic computer is about to die, Dr. Wilbur, a famous American mathematician, firmly stood in the ranks of supporters, and he finally persuaded the US military. After more than two years of intense development, the first electronic computer finally came out on February 14, 1946. And its development funds have been increased several times, and finally reached $480 thousand.

  This electronic computer, called "Eniac", now looks like a monster. There are thousands of electronic tubes, diodes, resistors and other components inside, and there are as many as 500 thousand welding points in the circuit; On the surface of the machine, there are meters, wires and indicator lights. What makes people laugh and cry is that it consumes more than 174 kilowatt hours, and it is said that the lights in the whole town will dim when it is used; Moreover, its electron tube burns out every 15 minutes on average, and scientists have to keep changing it in a big sweat. However, the calculation speed of "Eniac" is 200,000 times that of manual calculation and 1,000 times that of relay computer. The U.S. military has also tasted the sweetness, because it only takes three seconds to calculate the trajectory of artillery shells, while before that, it took 200 people to calculate it manually for two months. In addition to conventional ballistic calculation, it later involved many scientific research fields and played an important role in the development of the first atomic bomb.

  On October 2, 1955, Eniak was declared "retired" and was displayed in a museum in Washington.

  Three electronic computers compete for the title of "the first in the world"

  Interestingly, the halo on the head of "Eniac" has been controversial for many years. In fact, quite a few people think that the "Giant" computer developed by Britain in 1943 is the world’s first electronic computer, but it has been kept secret. It was not until 1975 that the British authorities declassified the relevant files that people understood this inside story.

  It turned out that in the Second World War, in order to decipher a mechanical code of the Germans, British intelligence agencies and mathematics,

  With the cooperation of electronics experts, a large-scale electronic computing device was developed in 1943, and it was called the "giant" machine. Before the invention of the "Giant" machine, it took six to eight weeks for Britain to decipher the German high-level passwords, but it only took six to eight hours after using the "Giant" machine. Since it was put into use, a large number of German high-level military secrets were quickly deciphered, which greatly accelerated the process of Nazi Germany’s downfall. Because of the need of war, Britain regards it as "super secret". It is said that in order to keep secrets, Britain did not hesitate to secretly destroy 10 similar computers after the war. However, some people think that the "giant" computer is not a real electronic computer, but is between relay computer and modern electronic computer.

  There is another saying that atanasoff, a Bulgarian-American physicist, was the inventor of the first electronic computer. As early as December 1939, he built the world’s first electronic computer, but because it was World War II, he didn’t apply for a patent or publish the information. Despite different opinions, "Eniac" is still recognized by most people as the world’s first electronic computer, and Valentine’s Day 60 years ago has been recorded in the history of human invention forever.

  Electronic computers became famous overnight because of the presidential election.

  At the beginning of its birth, "Eniac" could not be widely used because of its many defects. It was not until 1951 that Moakley and eckert developed UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) on the basis of "Eniac" that electronic computers began to move from the laboratory to the society. Soon, an accident happened, and its popularity increased rapidly.

  In 1952, it coincided with the American election. In order to process the election data, CBS rented UNIVAC to predict the election results. Just 45 minutes after the election, UNIVAC calculated that Eisenhower would win with an absolute advantage of 438 votes. But before the election, almost all experts and the media predicted that the two sides would be evenly matched. Therefore, the broadcasting company refused to report the prediction results of the computer. Engineers had to recalculate, but the computer still insisted that Eisenhower would win by a wide margin. When the election results were officially announced, everyone was shocked: Eisenhower actually got 442 votes, and UNIVAC’s prediction had an error rate of less than 1%! Since then, the whole world has begun to have a new understanding of the functions of electronic computers, and the development of electronic computers has entered a new era.

  From then on to today, the development of electronic computers can be described as leaps and bounds. It is not only widely used in people’s social life, but also directly guides the development of today’s information society. There is no doubt that the electronic computer is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Nowadays, it has become an indispensable part of modern society and will continue to play an important role in the future. (Yang Honglin)

Editor: Li Xiuwei