A Conversation for Tommy Flowers - Technical Innovator

Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 1

Johnny Regular

I've often heard people refer to the COlossus as the first computer, adn it jsut doesn't hold up. Now, don't get me wrong, Tommy Flowers was likely the most undersung pioneer at Bletchley. If you stacked his contributions against Turing's, you'll see that Flowers had a much greater impact on the actual work done at Bletchley, though not nearly as much as the impact of Turing's theories did on later generations of computer folk. The concept of using valves for switching was first recommended by Claude Shannon.

Predating Colossus is the Harvard Mark-1, which, while electromechanical, certainly should be considered as one of the first computers. The same could be said of the Zuse Z-1, or the Z-3. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer(ABC) at Iowa State certainly predates it, holds the official title of first computer in America, though it never really worked too well.

The Colossus Machines were highly significant, though I still have troubles considering them to be computers, as they were really just electronic cross-checkers, only on a grand scale. While I would love to say that the American ENIAC was the first true computer, the fact is it's probably the Manchester Baby.

By the way, the only surviving piece of an original Colossus that I know is at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. It is a paper tape pulley that one of the men charged with breaking the machines up smuggled out.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 2

Who?

I never said that Tommy invented the computer, but he did invent the first electronic computer. OK, it was not as flexible as later computers, but it WAS a computer. It did a simple repetitive task FAST. The others were computers, but not electronic.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 3

Who?

To make my point, try A1000729 Early electronic computers.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 4

Johnny Regular

The ABC was electronic, as it used tubes.
We have wild debates over the definition of what a Computer is, and therefore, what the first computer is. Nowadays, most folks say it requires a stored programme, giving the advantage to the Baby.
Then again, of the 6 of us at the museum, we have 5 different opinions on the matter


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 5

Who?

Colossus is regarded as a 'proto-computer' - a set along the way. If you look at the early 1940s, there was Colossus (electronic), the Z3 (binary), Alan Turing's logic and a number of other essential components almost totally unconnected.

My only complaint against the 'Baby' is the fact that it was an academic development. Colossus and LEO did seious jobs.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 6

Johnny Regular

Well, the Baby and EDSAC were probably the imporant machines of that era, even more so than the ENIAC and IAS machines. LEO, while almost certainly the first commercial computer(ERA and Northrop each claim to have had models available prior), was a powerhouse, though it never gets the credit that the UNIVAC does, mostly because of the people connected with UNIVAC, and the number sold. The LEO is the machine we want the most for the collection.
A lot of Computer History types put Colossus in the same catagory as Totalisator Machines, the MARK 1, and other, single-purpose built machines. I tend to lean that way, as much as I would love to say that Race Tracks had the first computers.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 7

invisibleknight

Sorry to all those guys and their machines.
But 1 name and 1 name alone made it possible, no arguments.

Charles Babbage

Without him the modern computer would NOT exist.
He invented the forerunner of the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) which is an intregral part of EVERY modern computer today.

Babbage never even got to see his machine get built, he died a pauper.
They thought he was mad.

There is a fully working replica in The Science Museum (next door from the Enigma Machine) and if you get to see the guy displaying the Enigma Machine if you ask him REAL nice he'll open up the case and run the Babbage Machine for you.


Flowers Important, but not the Inventor of the Computer

Post 8

Terran - Th..th..th... that's all folks!

Charles Babbage was an innovator, and a very clever man, but tragically his influence on the modern computer is negligable, if not completely absent. He was ignored and when it came to designing future computers, no one looked to his designs. But it was probably the first of its kind. In a way he was a more modern (though arguably had far fewer inventions) version of Leonardo Da Vinci, who also suffered from being brilliant but largely ignored from a scientific standpoint - people after his time remembered him for his paintings - but his inventions did not effect the development of later technologies.

The truth of the matter is with something like the Computer we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, going back to the beginning of time. The computer is actually the story of the human race. And I think that is a wonderful thing.


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