Computer, Digital (Encyclopedia of Science)
The digital computer is a programmable electronic device that processes numbers and words accurately and at enormous speed. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from the familiar desktop microcomputer to the minicomputer, mainframe, and supercomputer. The supercomputer is the most powerful in this list and is used by organizations such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to process upwards of 100 million instructions per second.
The impact of the digital computer on society has been tremendous; in its various forms, it is used to run everything from spacecraft to factories, health-care systems to telecommunications, banks to household budgets.
The story of how the digital computer evolved is largely the story of an unending search for labor-saving devices. Its roots go back beyond the calculating machines of the 1600s to the pebbles (in Latin, calculi) that the merchants of Rome used for counting and to the abacus of the fifth century B.C. Although none of these early devices were automatic, they were useful in a world where mathematical calculations performed by human beings were full of human error.
The Analytical Engine
By the early 1800s, with the Industrial Revolution well underway, errors in mathematical data had grave consequences. Faulty navigational tables, for example,...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
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