A few years ago we were discussing some of the most significant technological inventions in recent years with my friends, fellow technology enthusiasts. We discussed some of the most recent and most hyped inventions such as the Apple’s operating system, the IOS, Google’s search engine, and the advent of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. However, I noticed something that has become common in almost all technology-based reflections, the evolution in technology is usually thought of in terms of software developments.
It is clear from the topics I mentioned above that our discussion, just like most modern-day technology discussions, centered only on software-oriented developments ignoring the hardware aspect of technological evolution.
The race to recognition
As the world becomes more obsessed with interactive computer technology solutions, the popularity of computer software continues to soar while the crucial role and impact of computer hardware remains ignored.
The continuing popularity and recognition of software-oriented technology solutions can be credited to the highly competitive software field. It is true that the software field has earned most of its popularity. Considering the rapid pace with which computer applications (apps) are being developed and the mind boggling amounts of money that these applications generate, it is not surprising that the software field has eclipsed its hardware counterpart.
A crucial contribution
Despite the hype that is generated by the endless stream of computer apps being created today, we should all realize that these computer solutions cannot operate without the support of good computer hardware. As a computer scientist, I always remember this point when relishing the benefits accrued from any new technological solution.
I pointed this fact to my friends and they were all taken aback at this basic fact. I gave the example of the computer architecture in the 1960s and 1970s and ho this has helped to increase computing power, thereby offering a platform to develop all the apps we enjoy today.
The evolution of the computer motherboard started with the replacement of vacuum tubes by transistors in the 1950s. The transistors reduced the size of computers and also increased the speed. In the 1960s, the integrated circuits (ICs) were introduced. These IC combined various components of a computer onto a single chip thereby solving most of the practical problems experienced with earlier computer design approaches.
The ICs enabled the creation of the first microprocessor or CPU in the early 1970s. The microprocessor was a more refined model of the IC because it enabled the fabrication of the whole complete computer engine onto a single chip. Although Intel’s first microprocessor in 1971 had very low computation power, it could only add and subtract, the 4004 combined everything onto a single chip.
The 4004 reduced computer size considerable and it is the basis for the creation of the portable computers we enjoy today such as laptops, and Smartphone’s. The microprocessor has since evolved and today’s microprocessors have multiple cores and combine millions of transistors thereby generating very huge amounts of computation power.
Essentially, the evolution of the microprocessor to a very high power computational device has enabled modern day programmers to create all the marvelous computer applications we are enjoying today. In other words, anytime you are enjoying a chat on Skype or watching a movie on YouTube, remember to salute the unsung computer hero, the microprocessor.