The Uses of Computers, 1937-Future

On the left is the Dell OptiPlex GX520 from 2005, to the right is a PC’s Limited computer from 1985.

Today in 1937,  Howard Aiken, an instructor in the Department of Physics at Harvard University, having been turned down by the leading manufacturer of calculators (the Monroe Calculating Machine Company), submitted a proposal to IBM,  titled “Proposed Automatic Calculating Machine.”  I. Bernard Cohen in Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer Pioneer: “Soon thereafter, the engineers at IBM and the Harvard authorities began to refer to the machine as a ‘calculating plant.’ That, in fact, was the name IBM used in its contract with Harvard.”

Aiken’s conceived of this first computer, which became be known as the Harvard Mark I, as a tool to aid in scientific calculations. From his proposal: “… the need for mechanical assistance in computation has been felt from the beginning of science, but at present this need is greater than ever before. The intensive development of the mathematical and physical sciences in recent years has included the definition of many new and useful functions, neary all of which are defined by infinite series or other infinite processes. Most of these are inadequately tabulated and their application to scientific problems is therefore retarded.”

Fifteen years later, on November 4, 1952, two of the major television networks, CBS and NBC, used computers (one being the 25,000 lbs. Univac) to predict the results of the presidential election.

Remington Rand employees, Harold E. Sweeney (left) and J. Presper Eckert (center) demonstrate the U.S. Census Bureau's UNIVAC for CBS reporter Walter Cronkite (right).

Thirty years on, on November 4, 1982,  Compaq announced the suitcase-sized, IBM-compatible  Compaq Portable, an early laptop computer about the size of a portable sewing machine, weighing 28 lbs.




Two years later, (today?) in 1984, Dell Computer was founded in Austin, Texas by University of Texas student Michael Dell as PCs Limited with just a thousand dollars in start-up capital. Dell also developed IBM-compatible computers, but sold  them directly to customers so they can be customized to their needs and specifications.

Today, computers are still put to new uses. A prime example is healthcare. Says Michael Dell: “A number of our healthcare customers have been looking at various procedures within a hospital environment and what you find is an enormously wide range of outcomes for similar procedures and an enormously wide range of inputs.

It turns out that if you get all this data across thousands of hospitals, there’s actually smarter ways to do this, so if you think about business intelligence, as it would be applied today in a modern organisation, applying that kind of thinking in an evidence-based medicine approach provides lots of opportunity, and economies like Australia and certainly like the US need to find every opportunity to use information more effectively in pursuit of better outcomes.”

About GilPress

I launched the Big Data conversation; writing, research, marketing services; &
This entry was posted in Computer history, This day in information. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s