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Evolution Of Computers Through Five Generations

posted 6 Dec 2010, 05:07 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 6 Dec 2010, 05:09 ]

The technological development of the computer over the ages
is often referred to in terms of the different generations
of computing devices. The very first ones occupied a lot of
space. So much so that special janitorial services or
commercial cleaning services were hired for their
maintenance. Mainly, a generation is the state of
improvement in the product development process; basically a
certain 'leap' in the computer technology. This
fundamentally changes the way computers operate.

With each successive generation, the internal circuitry has
become smaller, more advanced and more versatile than in the
preceding generation. As a result of the miniaturization;
speed, power, and computer memory has proportionally
increased. New discoveries are in progress that affect the
way we live, work and do other chores. Currently there are
five known generations of computer.

The first generation computers relied on vacuum tubes for
circuitry and magnetic drums for memory. These were enormous
machines, taking up entire rooms. First generation computers
relied on machine language, the lowest-level programming
language understood by computers, to perform operations, and
they could only solve one problem at a time.

Second-generation computers moved from cryptic binary
machine language to symbolic, or assembly, languages, which
allowed programmers to specify instructions in words.
High-level programming languages were also being developed
at this time, such as early versions of COBOL and FORTRAN.
These were also the first computers that stored their
instructions in their memory, which moved from a magnetic
drum to magnetic core technology. The computers of this
generation have an added value as they were developed
initially for atomic industry.

The development of the integrated circuit was the hallmark
of the third generation of computers. The  need for such a
development was necessary because although the use of
transistors in place of vacuum tubes greatly reduced heat
loss into the surrounding, there was still a considerable
degree of heat loss that was damaging the internal
components of the computer. Computers for the first time
became accessible to a mass audience because they were
smaller and cheaper than their predecessors.

The microprocessor brought the fourth generation of
computers, as thousands of integrated circuits were built
onto a single silicon chip. What in the first generation
filled an entire room could now fit in the palm of the hand.
In 1981 IBM introduced its first computer for the home user,
and in 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh. Microprocessors
also moved out of the realm of desktop computers and into
many areas of life as more and more everyday products began
to use microprocessors.

As these small computers became more powerful, they could be
linked together to form networks, which eventually led to the
development of the Internet. Fourth generation computers also
saw the development of GUI's, the mouse and handheld devices.

Fifth generation computing devices, based on artificial
intelligence, are still in development, though there are
some applications, such as voice recognition, that are being
used today. The use of parallel processing and
superconductors is helping to make artificial intelligence a
reality. Parallel processing involves a system harnessing the
processing power of many CPU's to work as one, as opposed to
von Neumann's single central processing unit design.
Superconductor, an equally innovative invention allows flow
of electricity with little or low resistance; greatly
improving information flow and reducing heat loss.

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