10 Cool Facts About The Invention of the Computer

2. Viruses have been around for almost as long as computers

Computer viruses have been around for a long, long time.
Computer viruses have been around for a long, long time.

The sad fact is that where there are computers there will be computer viruses.  These programs are designed to travel between computers (via the internet or infected storage media) and force the system to grind to a halt by using up all available space.  Some are even able to delete material already stored on the computer.

The concept of the computer virus was discussed as early as 1944 and by the 1960s a virus called ‘The Creeper’ was infecting the ARPANET (see below).  As computers became more affordable and proliferated in private homes viruses became more damaging, one of the first to come to public attention was ‘The Elk Cloner’ which was spread through floppy disks.  Designed by a 15 year old this virus was more of a prank than a harmful piece of code but it was a sign of things to come.  BY the 1990s with the majority of computers running on the Windows system viruses were able to exploit the weaknesses in the system leading to the need for companies to develop effective safeguards.

Unfortunately viruses will always find a way and as protections and antivirus scans on disks and CDs became routine viruses moved to email as the best way to infect new computer.  These days we know not to click on links that look suspect but it was not always so.  The first major email virus was known as Melissa and hit computers in 1999 spreading through infected Word attachments. The virus emailed itself to the first 50 contacts in an infected computer’s email address book.  Each new computer would infect 50 more meaning that the virus could grow very quickly in a short space of time.  Some companies had to shut down their email systems to prevent it spreading.

Viruses are still out there but we now have better antivirus protection and are savvier about what links we open so they tend not to cause the problems they once did.

1. The Internet was conceived as early as 1950

In the 1950s people wanted instagram.  That can't be right.
In the 1950s people wanted instagram. That can’t be right.

It is hard, these days, to imagine life before the internet.  Once we had to look up facts in a physical encyclopedia (or on our computer based Encyclopedia on CD Rom for those of us who are younger).  These days information on just about anything is available at the tap of a finger.  The internet as we know it may seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon but it has, in actuality, been around almost as long as computers themselves.

In the early days of computing it was discovered that computers could be networked to coordinate information, this was used to develop the US based SAGE air defense system in the 1950s, it became operational in 1963.  By 1964 commercial equivalents such as the SABRE air travel reservation system were in operation.

In the 1970s the limitations of single computer led to technicians networking 4 separate computers together.  They were based in UCLA, Stanford, Santa Barbara and Utah.  The project was called ARPANET and allowed email and file transfers to take place.  Most of the early uses for this network were defense based but more and more computers joined and the military developed their own network, MILnet in 1983.  More and more universities started to develop their own networks (called Local Area Networks or LANS) which started to connect with other LANS on information sharing networks. By 1986 the internet as we know it was on its way and ARPANET finally shut down in 1990 just after the creation of the World Wide Web (www).  The internet grew quicker than almost any other technological advance in the history of mankind going from just 150 computers at the beginning of the 1980s to over 200,000 at the end of the decade and 8.7 billion (more than the human population of Earth in 2012..

 

The computer has change beyond recognition in less than a lifetime.  In the 60s and 70s card slot computers took up whole rooms and employees at businesses lucky enough to have them had to book time to do their calculations.  Even the pocket calculator, which seems to us today to be unbelievably basic and which is now nothing more than an app on a cheap ‘phone, was beyond the reach of the average worker.  Most people who did calculations had to use slide rules and word processing did not exist, hand or typewritten documents were the norm.

Fast forward to today and it seems inconceivable that we once lived like that. Almost unbelievably, everyone with a smartphone has access to processors more powerful than the computers that sent man to the moon and we use these mini supercomputers not for remarkably complex feat of calculation but to browse the internet, connect on Facebook and play Candy Crush!  Back in the 60s people would watch science fiction films such as Star Trek and marvel at the ‘tricorders’ and communicators.  Now our technology looks sleeker and is more efficient.  We are truly living in a wondrous age.