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Most individuals in the world today have a good understanding of what a computer is, but generally not how it operates. The Computer Security Resource Center of the National Institute of Standards and Technology describes a computer as “a machine that takes digital information and manipulates that data and or information based on a software installed on the computer or sequence of instructions for how information is to be handled.”

This term is necessary since computers have evolved significantly since their inception. They used to be huge machines that took up entire rooms. In the late 1900s and early 2000s, a person could have viewed what has been deemed a computer without understanding how it operates or what it was capable of. The fundamentals stayed the same, but the Interface Design, or lack thereof, altered how people utilize computers.

For instance, you may have learned in school that the  (plural abaci or abacuses), also called a counting frame, is a calculating tool which has been used since ancient times and was one of the earliest computers. Abacus is a Chinese mathematical instrument used for arithmetic and counting.

The history of modern computing begins with Charles Babbage a polymath from England. Babbage, who was also a mechanical engineer, inventor, philosopher, and mathematician, came up with the idea of the programmable digital computer. The term “father of the computer” has since been applied to Babbage. There were various designs and at least two large attempts to construct the machine effectively. The Computer History Museum a museum of computer history, located in Mountain View, California has additional details on the operation of the Analytical and Difference engines. Both technologies provide the blueprints for contemporary computers.

According to Khan Academy an American non-profit educational organization created in 2008 by Salman Khan, all iterations of computers share four characteristics. They must receive input, store and process data, and produce output. This is illustrated by presenting a phrase on a computer screen. The input comes from the keyboard, which the user presses to display the desired letter. A second illustration would be having a computer perform a simple computation. A calculator is a form of computer, although most computers can receive input such as (2+2), translate it into something the computer knows, compute the answer depending on math languages stored on the computer, and output the correct answer in a human-understandable language.

Depending on when and how they were made, computers can be categorized into generations one through five. First-generation computers were constructed using vacuum tubes from 1945 to 1956 and were built between 1945 and 1956. From 1956 through 1963, transistors were used to create the devices of the subsequent generation, hence the name. From 1964 through 1971, integrated circuits constituted the third generation. Modern computers belong to the fourth and fifth generations. Fourth Generation computers use microprocessors manufactured by firms such as Intel. You may find a sticker with the company’s name on your desktop or laptop. Fifth Generation computers are equipped with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, but it is unlikely that we will see much beyond Cortana on desktop computers and Siri on Apple portable devices. However, these are not yet actual artificial bits of intelligence. Today, this is restricted to processes that are intensively investigated by software engineers.

The purpose of this article was to provide a concise background and technological description of what computers are and where they originated.

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