The earliest foundations of what would become computer science predate the invention of the modern digital computer. Machines for calculating fixed numerical tasks such as the abacus have existed since antiquity, aiding in computations such as multiplication and division. Algorithms for performing computations have existed since antiquity, even before the development of sophisticated computing equipment.
Wilhelm Schickard designed and constructed the first working mechanical calculator in 1623. In 1673, Gottfried Leibniz demonstrated a digital mechanical calculator, called the Stepped Reckoner. He may be considered the first computer scientist and information theorist, for, among other reasons, documenting the binary number system. In 1820, Thomas de Colmar launched the mechanical calculator industry[note 1] when he released his simplified arithmometer, which was the first calculating machine strong enough and reliable enough to be used daily in an office environment. Charles Babbage started the design of the first automatic mechanical calculator, his Difference Engine, in 1822, which eventually gave him the idea of the first programmable mechanical calculator, his Analytical Engine. He started developing this machine in 1834, and “in less than two years, he had sketched out many of the salient features of the modern computer”. “A crucial step was the adoption of a punched card system derived from the Jacquard loom“ making it infinitely programmable.[note 2] In 1843, during the translation of a French article on the Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace wrote, in one of the many notes she included, an algorithm to compute the Bernoulli numbers, which is considered to be the first computer program. Around 1885, Herman Hollerith invented the tabulator, which used punched cards to process statistical information; eventually his company became part of IBM. In 1937, one hundred years after Babbage’s impossible dream, Howard Aiken convinced IBM, which was making all kinds of punched card equipment and was also in the calculator business to develop his giant programmable calculator, the ASCC/Harvard Mark I, based on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which itself used cards and a central computing unit. When the machine was finished, some hailed it as “Babbage’s dream come true”.
During the 1940s, as new and more powerful computing machines were developed, the term computer came to refer to the machines rather than their human predecessors. As it became clear that computers could be used for more than just mathematical calculations, the field of computer science broadened to study computation in general. In 1945, IBM founded the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University in New York City. The renovated fraternity house on Manhattan’s West Side was IBM’s first laboratory devoted to pure science. The lab is the forerunner of IBM’s Research Division, which today operates research facilities around the world.  Ultimately, the close relationship between IBM and the university was instrumental in the emergence of a new scientific discipline, with Columbia offering one of the first academic-credit courses in computer science in 1946. Computer science began to be established as a distinct academic discipline in the 1950s and early 1960s. The world’s first computer science degree program, the Cambridge Diploma in Computer Science, began at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory in 1953. The first computer science degree program in the United States was formed at Purdue University in 1962. Since practical computers became available, many applications of computing have become distinct areas of study in their own rights. Although many initially believed it was impossible that computers themselves could actually be a scientific field of study, in the late fifties it gradually became accepted among the greater academic population. It is the now well-known IBM brand that formed part of the computer science revolution during this time. IBM (short for International Business Machines) released the IBM 704 and later the IBM 709 computers, which were widely used during the exploration period of such devices. “Still, working with the IBM [computer] was frustrating […] if you had misplaced as much as one letter in one instruction, the program would crash, and you would have to start the whole process over again”. During the late 1950s, the computer science discipline was very much in its developmental stages, and such issues were commonplace.
Time has seen significant improvements in the usability and effectiveness of computing technology. Modern society has seen a significant shift in the users of computer technology, from usage only by experts and professionals, to a near-ubiquitous user base. Initially, computers were quite costly, and some degree of humanitarian aid was needed for efficient use—in part from professional computer operators. As computer adoption became more widespread and affordable, less human assistance was needed for common usage.
Despite its short history as a formal academic discipline, computer science has made a number of fundamental contributions to science and society—in fact, along with electronics, it is a founding science of the current epoch of human history called the Information Age and a driver of the information revolution, seen as the third major leap in human technological progress after the Industrial Revolution (1750–1850 CE) and the Agricultural Revolution (8000–5000 BC).
These contributions include:
- The start of the “Digital Revolution“, which includes the current Information Age and the Internet.
- A formal definition of computation and computability, and proof that there are computationally unsolvable and intractable problems.
- The concept of a programming language, a tool for the precise expression of methodological information at various levels of abstraction.
- In cryptography, breaking the Enigma code was an important factor contributing to the Allied victory in World War II.
- Scientific computing enabled practical evaluation of processes and situations of great complexity, as well as experimentation entirely by software. It also enabled advanced study of the mind, and mapping of the human genome became possible with the Human Genome Project. Distributed computing projects such as [email protected] explore protein folding.
- Algorithmic trading has increased the efficiency and liquidity of financial markets by using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other statistical and numerical techniques on a large scale. High frequency algorithmic trading can also exacerbate volatility.
- Computer graphics and computer-generated imagery have become ubiquitous in modern entertainment, particularly in television, cinema, advertising, animation and video games. Even films that feature no explicit CGI are usually “filmed” now on digital cameras, or edited or post-processed using a digital video editor.
- Simulation of various processes, including computational fluid dynamics, physical, electrical, and electronic systems and circuits, as well as societies and social situations (notably war games) along with their habitats, among many others. Modern computers enable optimization of such designs as complete aircraft. Notable in electrical and electronic circuit design are SPICE, as well as software for physical realization of new (or modified) designs. The latter includes essential design software for integrated circuits.
- Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important as it gets more efficient and complex. There are many applications of AI, some of which can be seen at home, such as robotic vacuum cleaners. It is also present in video games and on the modern battlefield in drones, anti-missile systems, and squad support robots.
- Human–computer interaction combines novel algorithms with design strategies that enable rapid human performance, low error rates, ease in learning, and high satisfaction. Researchers use ethnographic observation and automated data collection to understand user needs, then conduct usability tests to refine designs. Key innovations include the direct manipulation, selectable web links, touchscreen designs, mobile applications, and virtual reality.
Although first proposed in 1956, the term “computer science” appears in a 1959 article in Communications of the ACM,in which Louis Fein argues for the creation of a Graduate School in Computer Sciences analogous to the creation of Harvard Business School in 1921, justifying the name by arguing that, like management science, the subject is applied and interdisciplinary in nature, while having the characteristics typical of an academic discipline.His efforts, and those of others such as numerical analyst George Forsythe, were rewarded: universities went on to create such programs, starting with Purdue in 1962. Despite its name, a significant amount of computer science does not involve the study of computers themselves. Because of this, several alternative names have been proposed. Certain departments of major universities prefer the term computing science, to emphasize precisely that difference. Danish scientist Peter Naur suggested the term datalogy, to reflect the fact that the scientific discipline revolves around data and data treatment, while not necessarily involving computers. The first scientific institution to use the term was the Department of Datalogy at the University of Copenhagen, founded in 1969, with Peter Naur being the first professor in datalogy. The term is used mainly in the Scandinavian countries. An alternative term, also proposed by Naur, is data science; this is now used for a distinct field of data analysis, including statistics and databases.
Also, in the early days of computing, a number of terms for the practitioners of the field of computing were suggested in the Communications of the ACM—turingineer, turologist, flow-charts-man, applied meta-mathematician, and applied epistemologist. Three months later in the same journal, comptologist was suggested, followed next year by hypologist. The term computics has also been suggested. In Europe, terms derived from contracted translations of the expression “automatic information” (e.g. “informazione automatica” in Italian) or “information and mathematics” are often used, e.g. informatique (French), Informatik (German), informatica (Italian, Dutch), informática (Spanish, Portuguese), informatika (Slavic languages and Hungarian) or pliroforiki (πληροφορική, which means informatics) in Greek. Similar words have also been adopted in the UK (as in the School of Informatics of the University of Edinburgh).“In the U.S., however, informatics is linked with applied computing, or computing in the context of another domain.”
A folkloric quotation, often attributed to—but almost certainly not first formulated by—Edsger Dijkstra, states that “computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”[note 3] The design and deployment of computers and computer systems is generally considered the province of disciplines other than computer science. For example, the study of computer hardware is usually considered part of computer engineering, while the study of commercial computer systems and their deployment is often called information technology or information systems. However, there has been much cross-fertilization of ideas between the various computer-related disciplines. Computer science research also often intersects other disciplines, such as philosophy, cognitive science, linguistics, mathematics, physics, biology, statistics, and logic.
Computer science is considered by some to have a much closer relationship with mathematics than many scientific disciplines, with some observers saying that computing is a mathematical science. Early computer science was strongly influenced by the work of mathematicians such as Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing, Rózsa Péter and Alonzo Church and there continues to be a useful interchange of ideas between the two fields in areas such as mathematical logic, category theory, domain theory, and algebra.
The relationship between Computer Science and Software Engineering is a contentious issue, which is further muddied by disputes over what the term “Software Engineering” means, and how computer science is defined. David Parnas, taking a cue from the relationship between other engineering and science disciplines, has claimed that the principal focus of computer science is studying the properties of computation in general, while the principal focus of software engineering is the design of specific computations to achieve practical goals, making the two separate but complementary disciplines.
The academic, political, and funding aspects of computer science tend to depend on whether a department formed with a mathematical emphasis or with an engineering emphasis. Computer science departments with a mathematics emphasis and with a numerical orientation consider alignment with computational science. Both types of departments tend to make efforts to bridge the field educationally if not across all research.
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