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Computer: A History of the Information Machine.

The cliche "Necessity is the mother of invention" seems particularly apt for discussing the development of the computer, whose history begins in the nineteenth century. During that century, as this book tells us, the Industrial Revolution caused population and urbanization to increase. This required that business and government greatly expand and search for better ways to collect and process information. Enter Charles Babbage, an Englishman credited with inventing the world's first mechanical computer that could calculate and print. On this side of the Atlantic, Herman Hollerith, seeing a business opportunity in a machine that could mechanically tabulate the U.S. census of 1890, created a punch-card tabulator that eventually became the technology that created IBM.

In the twentieth century Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, so successfully applied his marketing and sales abilities that in 1924 he stated, "Everywhere ... there will be IBM machines in use. The sun never sets on IBM." World War II military needs sped up computer development resulting in the ENIAC, the first fully electronic computer which contained 20,000 electronic tubes and filled a 30 by 50 foot room. The modem personal computer liberated users from dependence on room-sized mainframe computers like ENIAC and its successors.

Today we see computer companies competing over how to best maximize storage ability, processing speed, and reliability at an affordable price. No matter how successful the companies are, obsolescence seems built into the process (the authors tell us they used three generations of personal computers during the five years it took them to write this book).

Computer includes a 13 page bibliography, 16 pages of illustrations and a brief discussion of the Internet and the World Wide Web. The authors do not discuss computer science and computer theory, nor do they treat artificial intelligence. But there's enough material provided here to temporarily satisfy the interest of anyone curious about the history of an invention that's ever changing, and ever changing us.

Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Institute of General Semantics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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