Лекция: Early Electronic Digital Computation
Friden paper tape punch. Punched tape programs would be much longer than the short fragment of yellow paper tape shown.
The era of modern computing began with a flurry of development before and during World War II.
At first electromechanical components such as relays were employed. George Stibitz is internationally recognized as one of the fathers of the modern digital computer. While working at Bell Labs in November 1937, Stibitz invented and built a relay-based calculator that he dubbed the «Model K» (for «kitchen table», on which he had assembled it), which was the first to calculate using binary form.
However electronic circuit elements replaced their mechanical and electromechanical equivalents, and digital calculations replaced analog calculations. Machines such as the Z3, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer, the Colossus computers, and the ENIAC were built by hand using circuits containing relays or valves (vacuum tubes), and often used punched cards or punched paper tape for input and as the main (non-volatile) storage medium. Defining a single point in the series as the «first computer» misses many subtleties (see the table «Defining characteristics of some early digital computers of the 1940s» below).
Alan Turing's 1936 paper proved enormously influential in computing and computer science in two ways. Its main purpose was to prove that there were problems (namely the halting problem) that could not be solved by any sequential process. In doing so, Turing provided a definition of a universal computer which executes a program stored on tape. This construct came to be called a Turing machine. Except for the limitations imposed by their finite memory stores, modern computers are said to be Turing-complete, which is to say, they have algorithm execution capability equivalent to a universal Turing machine.
Half-inch (12.7 mm) magnetic tape, originally written with 7 tracks and later 9-tracks.
For a computing machine to be a practical general-purpose computer, there must be some convenient read-write mechanism, punched tape, for example. With knowledge of Alan Turing's theoretical 'universal computing machine' John von Neumann defined an architecture which uses the same memory both to store programs and data: virtually all contemporary computers use this architecture (or some variant). While it is theoretically possible to implement a full computer entirely mechanically (as Babbage's design showed), electronics made possible the speed and later the miniaturization that characterize modern computers.
There were three parallel streams of computer development in the World War II era; the first stream largely ignored, and the second stream deliberately kept secret. The first was the German work of Konrad Zuse. The second was the secret development of the Colossus computers in the UK. Neither of these had much influence on the various computing projects in the United States, but some of the technology led, via Turing and others, to the first commercial electronic computer. The third stream of computer development was Eckert and Mauchly's ENIAC and EDVAC, which was widely publicized.
A reproduction of Zuse's Z1 computer
Working in isolation in Germany, Konrad Zuse started construction in 1936 of his first Z-series calculators featuring memory and (initially limited) programmability. Zuse's purely mechanical, but already binary Z1, finished in 1938, never worked reliably due to problems with the precision of parts.
Zuse's later machine, the Z3, was finished in 1941. It was based on telephone relays and did work satisfactorily. The Z3 thus became the world's first functional program-controlled, all-purpose, digital computer. In many ways it was quite similar to modern machines, pioneering numerous advances, such as floating point numbers. Replacement of the hard-to-implement decimal system (used in Charles Babbage's earlier design) by the simpler binary system meant that Zuse's machines were easier to build and potentially more reliable, given the technologies available at that time.
Programs were fed into Z3 on punched films. Conditional jumps were missing, but since the 1990s it has been proved theoretically that Z3 was still a universal computer (as always, ignoring physical storage limitations). In two 1936 patent applications, Konrad Zuse also anticipated that machine instructions could be stored in the same storage used for data—the key insight of what became known as the von Neumann architecture, first implemented in the British SSEM of 1948. Zuse also claimed to have designed the first higher-level programming language, which he named Plankalkül, in 1945 (published in 1948) although it was implemented for the first time in 2000 by a team around Raúl Rojas at the Free University of Berlin—five years after Zuse died.
Zuse suffered setbacks during World War II when some of his machines were destroyed in the course of Allied bombing campaigns. Apparently his work remained largely unknown to engineers in the UK and US until much later, although at least IBM was aware of it as it financed his post-war startup company in 1946 in return for an option on Zuse's patents.