The Computer Revolution: From Room-Sized to Pocket-Sized

By Sophia Maddox | March 21, 2024

Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce Change the Computer Landscape With Integrated Circuits

Computers are an integral part of life. People use them to communicate with people who are important to them at work and home. Many people look up information that they want to learn on a computer. Others watch movies, play games or entertain themselves using computers. From early morning to late night, people rely on computer systems to help them stay organized.

While it is hard for most people to imagine life without computers, it hasn't always been that way. Here's a look at how people developed computers and their operating programs. Along the way, meet some people who influenced their development. You'll discover how computers went from filling entire rooms to being small enough to fit in your pocket.


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Before Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce developed their integrated circuits, the components for each computer manually, and the process could be very tedious and uneconomical. In addition, one faulty part could render the whole system unusable. Jack Kilby joined Texas Instruments in 1958 and began working on their Micro-Module program sponsored by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. These modules were standardized sizes, and workers could snap them together, but they did not reduce the number of components. Therefore, he hatched a successful idea to solve the problem by creating an integrated circuit.

Working independently, Robert Noyce came up with a similar integrated circuit at about the same time. Noyce's invention was more of a commercial success. Yet, the two men decided to share credit for the invention because they believed there was enough credit to go around.

John Backus and Team Forge the First High-Level Programming Language, FORTRAN

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According to John Backus, before his team developed FORTRAN, a computer programmer "had to employ every trick that he could think of to make the program run fast enough to justify the rather enormous cost of running it. And he had to do all of that by his own ingenuity because the only information he really had was the problem at hand, and the machine manual." He also pointed out that, sometimes, there was not even a manual. In addition, many computer programmers considered the information they had amassed highly guarded secrets that they would not share willingly.

In 1957, John Backus was working for IBM when he proposed to his superiors that the company develop a more practical alternative to assembly language that told computers what you wanted them to do. The development of FORTRAN eliminated the need to hand-code computer programs, helping to reduce startup costs. The program became widely accepted and was considered the standard for many decades.