In the history of computing, generations are spoken of to refer to the various stages in the history of its technological evolution, as they became more complex, more powerful, and, curiously, more minute. There are five generations of computers identified, although the sixth generation could be developing right now in the early 21st century.
Below we detail the characteristics of each one.
First Generation of Computers
This is the initial generation, which runs from 1940 to 1952. It begins with the invention of the first automatic calculation machines that we can begin to call “computer” itself. They relied on the vacuum tube and valve electronics.
Many of these computers were programmed with a simple set of instructions that had to be supplied to the system as punched cardstock or paper cards.
One of the most famous models of this generation was the 1946 ENIAC, which weighed several tons and consumed a few Kwatts with each simple operation of up to five thousand sums per second. Another important model was the Univac I of 1951, the first designed for commercial purposes.
Second Generation of Computers
It begins in 1956 and runs until 1964. The change from the first to this second generation was represented by the replacement of the vacuum valves by transistors, making them much smaller and also reducing their electrical consumption. These were the first machines that had a specific language to program them, such as the famous FORTRAN.
One of the best-known models of this generation was the IBM 1401 Mainframe. It was a bulky and expensive machine that still read punch cards but was so successful that 12,000 units were sold, a market success for the time being (1959).
On the other hand, the System / 360, also from IBM, stood out, of which 14,000 units were sold in 1968, belonging to a whole range of quite successful models for individual use.
Third Generation of Computers
This third-generation extended from 1965 to 1971, which was determined by the invention of integrated circuits. This revolutionary technology allowed to increase the processing capacity of the machines, while reducing their manufacturing costs.
These circuits are printed on silicon chips, adding small transistors and using semiconductor technology. It was the first step towards the miniaturization of computers, in addition to being used in the manufacture of radios, televisions and other similar devices.
Some of the most popular models of this generation were the PDP-8 and PDP-11, which were exemplary in their handling of electricity, their multi-process capability, and their reliability and flexibility. With this generation of computers, the number of pis (π) was calculated with 500 thousand decimals.
Fourth Generation of Computers
The fourth-generation was manufactured between 1972 and 1980. The integration of electronic components soon allowed the invention of the microprocessor, an integrated circuit that brings together all the fundamental elements of the machine and which was renamed the chip.
Thanks to the addition of chips, computers were able to diversify their arithmetic-logic functions and replace, for example, silicon ring memory with chip memory, taking another important step towards microcomputerization.
This is how personal computers or PCs were born, a concept that still lives on today. The first microprocessor of this generation was the Intel 4004, manufactured in 1971, initially for an electronic calculator. There were many popular computers of this generation, classified between PCs (IBM) and “clones” (from other companies).
Fifth Generation of Computers
This generation is the most recent, began in 1983 and is still in force today. Computing diversified enormously, became portable, lightweight, and comfortable. Thanks to the Internet, it expanded its usage boundaries to limits never before suspected.
Computers were laptop or portable, revolutionizing the market and imposing the idea that the computer no longer needs to be fixed in a room, but an attachment over our suitcases.
There was also a Japanese attempt to build an FGCS ( Fifth Generation Computer Systems ) that would be a new design of computers strongly based on artificial intelligence. However, after eleven years of development, the project did not deliver the expected results.
However, processing speed, versatility, and convenience have never converged in the computer world until this recent generation.
Sixth Generation of Computers
Technological research does not stop, and contemporary computers are being designed to employ neural learning circuits, artificial “brains”. In other words, it aims to create the first intelligent computers in history.
This would be possible using the technology of superconductors, to save enormously on electricity and heat, making highly efficient systems with enormous power, 30 times more than what we have today using common metals.
It is a technology still in development, but that has the potential to give birth to the sixth generation of computers.