Friday, August 13, 2010

Birth of computer science

Before the 1920s, computers (sometimes computors) were human clerks that performed computations. They were usually under the lead of a physicist. Many thousands of computers were employed in commerce, government, and research establishments. Most of these computers were women, and they were known to have a degree in calculus. Some performed astronomical calculations for calendars.

After the 1920s, the expression computing machine referred to any machine that performed the work of a human computer, especially those in accordance with effective methods of the Church-Turing thesis. The thesis states that a mathematical method is effective if it could be set out as a list of instructions able to be followed by a human clerk with paper and pencil, for as long as necessary, and without ingenuity or insight.

Machines that computed with continuous values became known as the analog kind. They used machinery that represented continuous numeric quantities, like the angle of a shaft rotation or difference in electrical potential.

Digital machinery, in contrast to analog, were able to render a state of a numeric value and store each individual digit. Digital machinery used difference engines or relays before the invention of faster memory devices.

The phrase computing machine gradually gave away, after the late 1940s, to just computer as the onset of electronic digital machinery became common. These computers were able to perform the calculations that were performed by the previous human clerks.

Since the values stored by digital machines were not bound to physical properties like analog devices, a logical computer, based on digital equipment, was able to do anything that could be described "purely mechanical." The theoretical Turing Machine, created by Alan Turing, is a hypothetical device theorized in order to study the properties of such hardware.

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