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Five Generations of Modern Computers

First Generation (1945-1955)


John. P. Eckert & John. W. Mauchly built 1st digital computer named ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) consisting of 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 5million soldered joints These computers were used for scientific and defence purposes Each computer had a different binary coded program called machine language that told it how to operate making it difficult to program and limiting versatility & speed Use of vacuum tubes and electric drums for data storage contributed to its massive size

Second Generation (1956-1963)


Replacement of large vacuum tubes by transistors signaled move to second generation computers These were smaller, faster, more reliable and more energy efficient Computers contained components such as printers, storage (tape and disk), memory, operating system and stored programs Assembly language replaced machine language allowing abbreviated programming codes to replace long, difficult binary codes Stored programs and programming languages provided flexibility for cost effective and productive application in business Sophisticated languages like COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) and FORTRAN (Formula Translator) became prevalent and an entire software industry came into existence These computers were successfully used in business, universities and government

Third Generation (1964-1971)


Transistors generated lots of heat which damaged the computers internal sensitive parts and hence Jack Kilby (an engineer with Texas instruments) developed the integrated circuit (IC) in 1958 IC combined 3 electronic components onto a small silicon disc made of quartz Scientists fit even more components on a single chip called a semiconductor resulting in computers becoming even smaller as more components were squeezed onto the chip Second generation computers were rather specialized i.e. they were designed to process either scientific or non scientific applications, but not meant to do well in both the environments IBMs System/360 family of mainframe computers allowed both scientific processing and record-keeping Also in use was an operating system for running different programs at once with a central program that monitored and coordinated the computers memory

Fourth Generation (1972 onwards)


Large Scale Integration (LSI) fit hundreds of components onto 1 chip 1980s saw Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) squeezing hundreds of thousands of components onto 1 chip Ultra Large Scale Integration (ULSI) ensured millions of components onto 1 chip Intels 4004 chip (1971) had CPU (Central Processing Unit), memory and input/output controls on 1 chip - also known as microprocessor Microprocessors, unlike ICs, did not need to be manufactured for a special purpose as they could be programmed for any demand At this stage, these computers (or minicomputers) were available to general consumers with user-friendly software packages (e.g. word processors, spreadsheets) Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) were invented that allowed users to move screen icons instead of typing instructions Computer size decreased to the level of a palmtop that could fit in a pocket Local Area Networks (LANs) connecting computers propelled further use The internet and World Wide Web (WWW) along with the advent of mobile computing ensured data access from any place

Fifth Generation (Present & Future)


An example of fifth generation computers is the fictional HAL9000 from Arthur C. Clarkes novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey Artificial Intelligence (AI) being the key difference would ensure improved interactions between humans and computer systems where self-learning (by the computer) would make them better over time Advances in computer design and technology such as parallel processing and superconductor technology enabled more powerful and faster performance These computers aim to solve high complex problems that require reasoning, intelligence and expertise They are designed to contain a large number of processors that are grouped into 3 major sub systems o Knowledge based system For storage and updating of data o Inference mechanism For drawing reasoned conclusions from knowledge base o Intelligent user interface For establishing contact between computer and user Robots with AI, seen in movies like James Camerons Terminator or Bicentennial Man (based on Isaac Asimovs science fiction book) are concepts that could be realized For now, the humanoid robot ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative MObility) manufactured by Honda, has set the stage