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The History of Information Technology: Past, Present, Future

When we think of information technology (IT), we think of computers and the internet. Right? Even kids can´t imagine that there was a time without computers, cell phones and other mobile devices. We use it everyday and we feel that we can´t live without it. We communicate with others using cell phones, chat rooms, forums and email. We use the internet for research, entertainment, communication, work and school. In today’s modern time, kids don’t have to go to the library to find information and to do their homework. They conveniently have constant access to the internet in their own homes. Likewise, businesses use computers and the internet not only for research purposes but also for gathering and storing information. They no longer have to rely on paperwork, cabinets and books. However, there was a time when these modern technologies didn´t exist and society used other forms of what was the latest technology at that time. In fact, information technology has been around for a long time and without the evolution of IT throughout history, it wouldn’t be where it is today and provide us with the modern technologies that are readily available to us.

Let’s go back through history and take a look at the different stages of IT development:

  1. Pre Mechanical Age
  2. Mechanical Age
  3. Electromechanical Age
  4. Electronic Age

The Pre Mechanical Age

The earliest age of technology has been dated back to the pre mechanical age (between 3000 B.C. and 1450 A.D.). Human beings at that time primarily communicated with each other using simple picture drawings called petroglyphs. They created these drawings on rock. This form of language was used to tell a story, to keep record of how many animals one owned and to mark their territory. This eventually led to the arrival of the first writing system known as ¨cuniform¨. Instead of using pictures to express words, signs were composed to correspond with spoken sounds. Afterwards, the Phoenician alphabet was created which consisted of a more simplified writing technique using symbols to express single syllables and consonants. Later on, vowels were added and names were given to the letters to create the alphabet that we use today.

As the alphabets and the writing systems became more popular and common, there was more and more recorded information. This resulted in finding better ways to communicate and keep record of information. The first writing material was simply a pen like object to create markings in wet clay. This led to more useful forms of writing materials from writing on bark, leaves, leather to writing on the papyrus plant to making paper with rags to the making of modern-day paper we use today. However, as more and more people used these new early technologies, they had to confront a new problem. How could they safely store all of this information for a long period of time? This resulted in different methods for record keeping such as clay tablets and scrolls which led to books and libraries.

The numbering systems and the abacus, the first calculator, were also invented during this period.

The Mechanical Age

During the mechanical age (between 1450 and 1840) many extraordinary inventions took place. This is where we can see similarities between our modern-day technologies and the rising technologies back then.

Due to many new technological inventions, there was a great interest in computation and information. There were several machines that were invented, one of them being the printing press. With this new movable, metal-type printing machine, the process of composing pages took only a few, short minutes which made written technology easily accessible to the public. This led to other useful techniques such as the development of book indexes and the use of page numbers. These methods of organizing information paved the way of the development of files and databases. Other major machine inventions were the following:

  • The slide rule (1600s)- an analog computer that allowed users to multiply and divide.
  • The Pascaline (around 1642) – a mechanical computer that allowed users to add, subtract, multiply and divide two numbers.
  • The Leibniz’s machine (1670s) – a machine that was an improvement of the Pascaline that included additional components that made it easier for users to multiply and divide.
  • The difference engine (1820s) – a machine creation that could calculate numbers and print the results.

Even though these machine inventions were not as effective as the latest technologies we use today, they play a big role in the evolution process of information technology.

The Electromechanical Age

During the time of the electromechanical age (between 1840 and 1940), the beginning of telecommunication emerged. Many revolutionary technologies were invented in this stage that led to modern information technology systems. First, a new method of communicating information was discovered with the voltaic battery. This discovery was the first electrical battery that created and stored electricity. Afterwards, the telegraph was invented to communicate with others over great distances through the use of electricity. This led to the development of Morse Code. This was a system built to communicate with others by breaking down the alphabet into dots and dashes, transformed into electrical impulses and transmitted over a wire. This was very similar to today´s digital technologies that break down information. Shortly afterwards, the telephone and radio were invented. Later on, the first digital computer was created. It consisted of electromechanical computing components, data and program readers, automatic typewriters and input/output and control readers. It was different from our modern computers but it resulted an interest to explore other ways to make the system smaller and to operate more effectively.

The Electronic Age

The electronic age (from 1940 to present day) is the stage of information technology that we currently live in. It first started when electronic equipment including computers began to take place. At the beginning of this stage, it was realized that electronic vacuum tubes could be used instead of electromechanical parts. The first high-speed digital computer was the ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. It was able to solve a large class of numerical problems through reprogramming. It was also one thousand times faster than that of electro-mechanical machines from the previous age. However, the problem with the ENIAC was that it didn’t have the capacity to store program instructions in its memory. Then, the EDSAC, Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator was created and was recognized as the first stored-program computer. Afterwards, the world’s first commercial computer was invented known as LEO (Lyons Electronic Office).

The evolution of information technology and the development of computers have been grouped into five different stages or generations. They are:

  1. The First Generation (roughly from 1940-1956)
  2. The Second Generation (roughly from 1956-1963)
  3. The Third Generation (roughly from 1964-1971)
  4. The Fourth Generation (roughly from 1971-Present)
  5. The Fifth Generation (Present to Future)

The First Generation

During the first generation, computer systems used vacuum tubes. The machines were huge and took up entire rooms. They consumed a large amount of electricity and therefore, were expensive to operate. They also generated a lot of heat which resulted in malfunctions.

These first generation computers relied on machine language and could only solve one problem at a time. It also took a long, complicated process to set up a new problem onto the machine. Punched cards and paper tape were used for input and printouts were used to display output. The ENIAC was an example of a first generation computer but it was programmed by plugboard and switches.

The Second Generation

In the second generation, vacuum tubes were replaced with transistors. This was a major improvement, allowing computers to become smaller, faster, cheaper, reliable and more energy-efficient. They were also becoming more accessible since high-level programming languages were being developed such as COBOL and FORTRAN. Second generation computers leaned away from cryptic, binary machine language to symbolic, assembly languages which programmed written instruction. Magnetic core technology was also used instead of magnetic drum which made it possible for computers to store their instructions in their memory. Little by little, magnetic tape and disks took the place of punched cards.

The Third Generation

By the time the third generation arrived, there was an increase in the speed and the efficiency of computers due to the development of integrated circuits. Transistors were made smaller and installed on silicon chips. Punched cards and printouts became obsolete since operating systems, keyboards and monitors were created. This allowed computers to operate many different applications at one time with one main program to monitor and store information. Programming languages were developed that made programming easier to do. BASIC was one of those languages. For the first time in history, society as a whole had access to computers.

The Fourth Generation

Fourth generation computers upscaled to integrated circuits that contained a numerous amount of transistors on one, small chip. Microprocessors contained memory, logic and control circuits (central processing unit) on a single chip. Computer systems went from enormous vacuum tubes that filled an entire room to a tiny chip that could fit in your hand. Computers like IBM and Apple PC (personal computer) were created for both personal and business purposes. Language software products such as Word for Windows and Access were also introduced which enabled people to use computers without the necessity of any technical knowledge. As these fourth generation small computers became popular and spread worldwide, networks, handheld devices and finally the internet were developed.

The Fifth Generation

We are currently in the fifth generation. A lot of today´s research focuses on artificial intelligence, the creation of intelligent machines that function and behave like humans. Speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving are some of the activities that are being tested and performed. Even though artificial intelligence is still in development, there are some applications that are being used such as voice recognition. Overall, the main goal is to develop devices that respond to natural language input and that are capable of learning.

In conclusion, information technology has been in existence for thousands of years and has been evolving since the beginning of time – and it is still evolving. Human beings have been collecting information in different ways and have discovered different forms to communicate through the use of technologies. Information technology has been essential to our lives and has made a huge impact throughout history. Without it, we wouldn’t be here today with the latest, advanced technologies.

At Zimega TS we recognize the importance of information technology and the stepping stones that it has taken to arrive to this modern generation of IT. Contact us today to discuss your IT needs. We have IT support experts to assist you. You can also visit us on our website at zimegats.com.

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