The Fantastic Voyage

The InfoTech revolution has come here to stay and threatens to change the face of the Earth. We are all speeding on Al Gore’s information superhighway. But the development of all this has not been overnight. Its development can be traced centuries back. At first, computing started slowly, picked up and since then it has been accelerating.

Early Developments: One of the important inventions, which helped in the history of computing, was the ancient abacus, which is still widely popular in Japan in the 20th century. Other developments were the slide rule in 1622, the mechanical calculator in 1647 and the automated loom in 1820. The latter used punched cards and this was the first form of primitive programming.

The 19th Century: But it was Charles Babbage who really laid the foundation for the computer, as we know it today. He made great breakthroughs in the 1830s on his analytical engine with this regard.

In 1876 came the telephone. The foundation for communication lines all over the world was laid. One 20th century invention, the modem, united the computer and telephone to unleash a monster.

The Fifties to the Seventies: During this period in the 20th century came a spate on inventions and ideas in rapid succession. The coming of the microchip in 1959, the minicomputer in 1968 which subsequently helped man to go to the moon, the microprocessor in 1970, the microcomputer in 1974 and the floppy disk in 1975.

The Eighties. PC Magic Everywhere: Perhaps this was the final stage and the most important development, the coming of the computer to the masses. A computer became a necessity for everyone in the West, Steve Jobs quit the Apple scene, but not before leaving his impact on the world and Bill Gates became a billionaire. In 1980, IBM came out with the first commercial personal computer, which incidentally was also the year of the supercomputer. In 1981 came the same computer with Microsoft Desk Operating System (MS DOS), which ensured that computer handling became much more simpler and Gates all the more richer. At that time we had modems with a speed of 300 bits per second, which looked as if they would fulfill future requirements. After that came the Compact Disc and then a spate of PCs, each better than the predecessor—the 286, 386 and 486.

The Nineties. The Coming of the Net: If everyone thought the PC revolution wouldn’t be bettered, then they were mistaken when the Internet took the whole world by storm. In 1991, Gopher, the precursor of the Web was designed to help students find information quickly. In 1992, the World Wide Web was formed thanks to researcher Tim Berners-Lee and the world was finally united on a scale never seen before. The global village seems to be shrinking and shrinking. Then in 1993, Marc Andreessen came out with Mosaic thanks to which we had graphics on the net and in 1994 came the commercial Netscape Navigator, aptly named. Now the setting was complete and anyone in the world and get information at speeds unimaginable just a few years ago. And talking of speeds, in 1996 the Optical Carrier (OC-3) came at a speed of 122 megabits per second, a far cry from the 1981 modem speed of just 300bps.

On the PC front came the Pentium for greater speeds and a larger memory and Windows 95, the real user-friendly operating system.

The 21st Century. Unpredictable: And one shudders to think what the next century is capable of. We have Virtual Reality, which creates a virtual world inside the mind. Computer aided design, medical research, writing—you name it, we’ll have Computer Aided Everything! Entire global business may be done on the Net. And then there’s artificial intelligence. Will the computer finally outwit man in all departments?

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper in 1998)

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