Timeline of Computer History

ERA 1101

ERA 1101 introduced

One of the first commercially produced computers, the company´s first customer was the US Navy. The 1101, designed by ERA but built by Remington-Rand, was intended for high-speed computing and stored 1 million bits on its magnetic drum, one of the earliest magnetic storage devices and a technology which ERA had done much to perfect in its own laboratories. Many of the 1101’s basic architectural details were used again in later Remington-Rand computers until the 1960s.

Grey Walter working with Elsie

Grey Walter's Elsie

A neurophysiologist, Walter built wheeled automatons in order to experiment with goal-seeking behavior. His best known robot, Elsie, used photoelectric cells to seek moderate light while avoiding both strong light and darkness—which made it peculiarly attracted to women’s stockings.

I, Robot book cover

Isaac Asimov's I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's I, Robot is published. Perhaps in reaction to earlier dangerous fictional robots, Asimov’s creations must obey the “Three Laws of Robotics” (1941) to assure they are no threat to humans or each other. The book consisted of nine science fiction short stories.

ERA founders with various magnetic drum memories

Magnetic drum memory

Eager to enhance America’s codebreaking capabilities, the US Navy contracts with Engineering Research Associates (ERA) for a stored program computer. The result was Atlas, completed in 1950. Atlas used magnetic drum memory, which stored information on the outside of a rotating cylinder coated with ferromagnetic material and circled by read/write heads in fixed positions. ERA successfully sold a commercial version of the Atlas, the ERA 1103.

Pilot ACE

NPL Pilot ACE completed

Based on ideas from Alan Turing, Britain´s Pilot ACE computer is constructed at the National Physical Laboratory. "We are trying to build a machine to do all kinds of different things simply by programming rather than by the addition of extra apparatus," Turing said at a symposium on large-scale digital calculating machinery in 1947 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The design packed 800 vacuum tubes into a relatively compact 12 square feet.

Simon featured on the November 1950 Scientific American cover

Plans to build the Simon 1 relay logic machine are published

The hobbyist magazine Radio Electronics publishes Edmund Berkeley's design for the Simon 1 relay computer from 1950 to 1951. The Simon 1 used relay logic and cost about $600 to build. In his book Giant Brains, Berkeley noted - “We shall now consider how we can design a very simple machine that will think. Let us call it Simon, because of its predecessor, Simple Simon... Simon is so simple and so small in fact that it could be built to fill up less space than a grocery-store box; about four cubic feet.”

Harry Huskey at the SWAC

SEAC and SWAC completed

The Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) is the first stored-program computer completed in the United States. It was built in Washington D.C. as a laboratory for testing components and systems and for setting computer standards. It was also the first computer to use all-diode logic, a technology more reliable than vacuum tubes. Magnetic tape in the external storage units (shown on the right of this photo) stored programming information, coded subroutines, numerical data, and output. The NBS also built the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC) at the Institute for Numerical Analysis in Los Angeles. Rather than testing components like its companion, the SEAC, the SWAC had an objective of computing using already-developed technology. SWAC was used to create the first computer-scanned image as well as to discover five previously unknown Mersenne prime numbers.

Microfilm screens on top of Memex desk

“Memex” concept

Title screen from Hunger

La Faim (Hunger) debuts

Edward Snowden, circa 2014

Edward Snowden

Bill Gates

Gates Joins Musk, Hawking in Expressing Fear of AI

Hardware wizard Bill English with setups for NLS

The Mother of All Demos