Computers: Now and Then

By Minna Pui

We cannot survive without computers in the 21st century. College students in particular rely on their computers or laptops for almost everything from entertainment to studying to connecting with friends. But do you even know when computers were developed or what they were used for before they became so commercialized and such an integral part of our lives?

The first programmable computer appeared in 1936, when Konrad Zuse from Germany used a Z1, an electrical binary programmable computer. However, it was a few decades before the first personal computer was released in 1975, which relied on a series of switches to input or output data by turning on and off a series of light. IBM released its first laptop in 1984.

Hardly anyone anticipated such an astonishing rate of change in the use of computers. Professor Cinda Heeren from the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign thinks that the evolution of computing is a matter of record. According to Hereen, “It has become increasingly personal and increasingly pervasive as a result of research-driven advances in things like battery life, storage capacity, and network communications.”

According to Moore’s Law, a theory developed by Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore, the pace of computer development is predictable. Moore, who has worked with Intel since 1965,states that the number of transistors in a chip doubles every two years. For non-computer science majors, this simply means that computation power doubles every two years. However, Jason Sze, a junior in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign still expresses some astonishment over computers’ rapid growth: “How the market and consumer reacted and how it was then adopted by so many people and became so popular: that was unexpected.” Sze goes on to comment, “The variations and innovations people came up with were also very surprising.”

The spread of the internet had a somewhat quicker pace. By July 1969, UCLA had already introduced the internet to the public, but it was only a tool for universities to communicate with each other in a most primitive form of email. The first commercial online service, CompuServe, was established in the same year. However, the internet wasn’t officially opened to commercial use until 1991 when the World Wide Web (WWW) was introduced to the public. In 1995, the dotcom boom burst into fervor and eventually developed into the internet that we know now.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    The internet has definitely changed the way we use the computer. Initially, Professor Heeren mainly used the computer for gaming or functions like programming and word processing. As time went by, she began to actively engage in search technology. Sze takes advantage of the increased speed of the internet to connect and socialize with family and friends by conveniently video-chatting with them. Sze also finds that new innovations have made computers more common and user-friendly. Furthermore, the creation of interesting applications and online games and the commercialization of the internet have accelerated the process of integrating more users. Professor Heeren said that “most of the computing and communication technology in Star Trek seems to be nearly reality,” expressing how dazzled she is by the path which technology has taken.