Where Did Computers Come From?
Posted: January 1, 2021
How many computers can you find in the room you’re sitting in? Answer this first: What is a computer?
A computer is a machine that answers questions and solves problems. Once, computers were huge and slow. A computer the size of a whole room would take a long time to do a single math problem! Now computers are teeny-tiny. Little ones inside machines make planes fly and cars drive. Do you see someone wearing a computer inside a wristwatch? How about someone carrying a phone? Computers are everywhere! They make difficult calculations—ones that would take people hours—in less than a blink.
Where did computers come from? Here’s the short answer: They came from war. Before World War II, computers were people. And no, we don’t mean machines were walking around with arms and legs! People did the jobs computers do now . . . which basically means they did a lot of math. They checked each other’s work to make sure they found the right answers.
Human computers were very important in wartime. But many people were too busy fighting in the war to work in computing. In Britain, people had a code to crack—the code created by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine. Twelve thousand codebreakers did that undercover work at Bletchley Park.
The German military used a machine called Enigma (enigma means mystery or riddle) to send secret messages. Enigma re-scrambled the letters of the alphabet every day, faster than humans could keep up with. The British needed a machine too. That’s why British mathematician Alan Turing designed Bombe. It was an electromechanical machine (it used electricity and machine parts) similar to a computer. Soon the British could use Bombe to read all the communications from the German navy. Bombe told the British what the Germans would do before they did it. Many say this work made the war two years shorter than it would have been. It may have saved millions of lives. Mr. Turing’s ideas also helped develop modern computers.
Imagine a world without the work done at Bletchley Park. What if no one ever cracked Enigma’s code? What if the Germans won World War II? And what if the computer had never been invented?
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. — Proverbs 2:6