How the Computer Developed

The Computer is the most important machine ever – and no doubt someone else will record its development better than I can. But until then, this account will have to do.

Its initial appearance has been documented adequately – and I will not go into that. I will only record what I remember starting in the Fifties – when my personal memory banks became active.

Back then, computers were huge things (mainframe computers), housed in their own rooms, with their special attendants. They were very expensive, and only large companies could afford them. They were difficult to program – using stacks of punch cards!

Gradually, the price came down, and their operating systems (the software that ran them) became more intelligent. Computer languages appeared, starting with COBOL, followed by FORTRAN.

The minicomputer appeared, back in the Seventies. These were not very mini – and required their own air conditioned rooms, with raised floors – for all the interconnecting cables. But their operating systems were more advanced, and provided terminals in separate rooms for the programmers to use.

This is what I started with in 1980. I learned the C language, the first high-level language, which was not too hard to learn. Programming back then was simple – nothing but text, and a whole lot of it!

I worked for the first companies that provided computer graphics – big, expensive terminals that could make pictures – and color pictures at that. People could not believe their eyes!

The next breakthrough was the Personal Computer (PC). I got one of the first ones, the Kaypro, that used the CPM operating system. This was so big you could hardly carry it – but had everything – two hard drives and a tiny screen, about 4×3 inches – and a keyboard, that doubled as the lid. Using this, I was three times as productive as my fellow techwriters, who were lucky to get a typewriter – most of them scribbled away on notepads.

IBM, the company that made most of the mainframes, came out with the first true personal  computer. And the world went nuts over it. It also put Microsoft on the map, because it made the Windows operating system for it – that was a graphical user interface. Computer users had gone to Heaven!

Then a number of companies tried to imitate the IBM PC – but could not. IBM had designed the internal software for its PC so it could not be copied. This stopped PC development until other companies designed software to replace the IBM software. Then things took off again.

This should have taught the Computer Industry a lesson – that proprietary software would hamstring the industry – but it did not learn this lesson – and Software companies now spend many millions, suing each other over software patents. This makes lawyers rich, and the rest of us poor.

This is a good example of things developed for the Industrial economy that don’t work for the Information economy. We have to shift gears, and make an effort to understand it (not a terribly hard job) – but people will not to do this. Why, I do not know – but it is symptomatic of our times that people will not try to understand anything.

Perhaps they have been asked to adapt too often and too much – and they are refusing to function as a result. Their world is falling down around their ears – much to their satisfaction.

After that digression, I return to my story. The next breakthrough was the Internet, in the Nineties, and I can remember the mass insanity (and the bubble) that resulted. And the crash that followed it. I took advantage of this to leave the country, and moved to Costa Rica.

The Nineties were busy time, and also produced the laptop computer. Large scale integrated circuits (chips) had become common, and could intercommunicate easily. It was not hard to put a handful of them on a circuit board – and add a keyboard and monitor. One of these chips provided Internet access – which had improved also, with the addition of WiFi.

Totalitarian countries quickly restricted Internet access in their countries. Information was dangerous, and they didn’t want too much of it around.

In the first decade of the 21st Century, handheld computers (cell phones) appeared – with a touch user interface. The world (the whole world) went nuts over them – and wireless networks appeared everywhere. Trillions of dollars flowed its way – and everyone had to have one.

All these smart devices had a unforeseen effect on their users – they made them stupid! I may be burned at the stake for saying this – but I have seen it over and over. And have also seen how no one (including our latest thinkers) has noticed this.

What’s next? Two things are creating a lot of excitement – fintech (innovative financial technology) – and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Fintech will require of lot of government supervision, to keep another financial collapse from happening. I haven’t paid too much attention to this.

AI is an umbrella term, covering a lot of different topics – that are poorly integrated. I suspect someone is trying to hide the weenie here.


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