Computers: Mechanical brains
Described as "gigantic brains," computers were once so big they filled entire rooms. It all started with ENIAC, the world's first computer, that cracked and buzzed and weighed 27 tonnes. By the 1960s, ordinary Canadians were fascinated with these new high tech devices: IBMs could set up blind dates, select Christmas presents and mysteriously dispense money. A novel idea until computer technology replaced real people on the job. These days computers continue to revolutionize — this time changing the way people communicate by way of the Internet.
"We might discuss them in terms of input, output and memory, and arithmetic operations," explains IBM's John Acheson to a CBC Radio reporter in this 1957 clip. Although Acheson says computers are "logically elegant," he discourages referring to them as "brains."
That's because computers can't think on their own -- they have to be programmed to perform operations. But Acheson predicts that one day computers may devise complex schedules in offices and help accountants get their work done faster.
• British mathematician Charles Babbage devised the earliest automatic calculating machine in the 1840s. Babbage's Analytical Engine could solve almost any mathematic equation.
• American inventor Frank Stephen Baldwin was the first to patent a calculator in 1875.
• In the late 1930s, mathematician Alan Turing developed a computing machine concept that would become the model for the first computer. Turing went on to work secretly for the British government as a code breaker.
• Turing, a German Jewish refuge, escaped from Germany during the Second World War with the help of British immigration.
Broadcast Date: July 27, 1957
Guest(s): John Acheson
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Reporter: James Bannerman
Last updated: February 15, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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