This month we’re looking at the history of inputs and outputs: the use of punch cards in the 1800s to “program” looms, the first time a keyboard was used to input commands and how aircraft design technology was used to output the first 3D scan of a human head.
July 4, 1956 – Keyboard and calculator paired for the first time
In 1956, users of MIT’s Whirlwind I computer, which began development and construction in 1948 and was completed in 1951, were able to enter commands with a keyboard – the first time the two devices were used together. (Previously, all computers used punch cards, switches and dials for input.) Today, touchscreens and even voice input are ubiquitous, but keyboards remain essential to our workflows. There’s just no better way to enter text.
July 7, 1752 – Birth of Joseph-Marie Jacquard
French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard is best known for the “Jacquard loom,” an early form of automation. Pasteboard cards were punched with holes whose instructions were “read” by a set of pins to produce complex patterns in rugs and linens. At the time, other silk weavers burned the machines and even attacked Jacquard, fearing for their livelihoods, but the design was eventually accepted and adopted across Europe. Jacquard’s innovation was an early precursor to the use of punch cards in computers in the 1900s.
July 12, 1949 – Thomas John Watson predicts the end of moving parts
IBM Chairman and CEO Thomas John Watson was far ahead of his time when, in 1949, he predicted that electronics would replace moving parts in machines in a decade. His prediction was wrong, but in some ways the future he envisioned has come to pass, with computers significantly simplifying machines. One example is electric vehicles, which replace a complex combustion engine with a battery and electronics, dramatically reducing the moving parts in a car.
July 19, 1983 – First 3D CT scan of a human head
On this day, a research team published the first 3D reconstruction of a human head using computed tomography (CT). Aircraft design techniques were used to create the images. The authors were Michael W. Vannier (Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, St. Louis), J. Marsh (Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Deformities Institute, St. Louis Children’s Hospital) and J. Warren (McDonnell Aircraft Company). Today, CT scans are commonly used in the diagnosis of concussions and other brain injuries.
July 20, 1976 – Viking I lands on Mars
The Viking I robot was the second soft lander on Mars, following the Soviet Union’s Mars 3, which landed on December 2, 1971 – but only transmitted data back to Earth for 14.5 seconds. Although the Viking I’s biology experiments found no evidence of life, it was able to collect information about the soil composition on Mars and capture images of the planet’s surface. Its mission lasted more than six years.
July 29, 1914 – First transcontinental phone call
The establishment of a long-distance phone network in the U.S. began in 1885 but it wasn’t until July 29, 1914, that the first phone call across the continental U.S. was made. This was only an internal test, however. Six months later, Alexander Graham Bell made the first public long-distance call from New York to his assistant Mr. Watson in San Francisco, saying, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you,” a phrase he first uttered when testing his telephone prototype in 1876.
This month, our survey of IT achievements recognizes the life-saving work of Alan Turing, the prescience of a calculator built in 1623 and the endearing gravelly voice of the first Speak & Spell:
June 11, 1978 – The Speak & Spell is announced
Texas Instruments introduced the Speak & Spell at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1978. It was the first single-chip voice synthesizer, at a time when toys otherwise played voices back from a tape or phonograph record. A variant of the technology was used in the Electronic Voice Alert in Chrysler vehicles in the 1980s. The Speak & Spell had a vocabulary of 200 words, and went through several redesigns. The last was released in 1992. Today, musicians continue to use it as an instrument, sometimes modding it so it can create more sounds.
June 19, 1623 – Blaise Pascal is born
Blaise Pascal began working on his “Pascaline” mechanical calculator when he was 19. It had addition and subtraction functions, which could be repeated to multiply and divide. He intended it to help his father in his work as a supervisor of taxes. The Pascaline was the first calculator to be used in an office, but its expense and complexity limited sales. About twenty machines were built during Pascal’s short life (he died at 39). Nine of his calculators still exist today.
June 21, 1948 – The first program is runI
The Manchester Baby, also known as the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), was the first computer to run a program stored electronically in its memory, rather than built into its hardware or stored on paper tape. It ran its first program on June 21, 1948, which was designed to find the highest proper factor of 2 to 18. The Baby found the solution after running 3.5 million operations in 52 minutes. The machine was a precursor to the first commercially available general purpose computer, the Ferranti Mark 1.
June 23, 1983 – Test of the Domain Name System (DNS)
The Stanford Research Institute once maintained a text file that matched simple host names to numerical ARPANET addresses, called HOSTS.TXT. But as the number of hosts grew, this and similar practices became unwieldy. In 1983, an automated Domain Name System was tested for the first time, the beginnings of the modern system we still use today.
June 23, 1912 – Alan Turing’s birth; June 7, 1954 – Turing’s death
British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing was born June 23, 1912, and died 41 years later on June 7, 1954. He theorized a “universal computer” that could run any program, known as a Turing Machine. His machine-assisted codebreaking might have shortened World War II by as much as two years, saving as many as 14 million lives.