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.