The first generation of computers used vacuum tubes as a major piece of technology. Vacuum tubes were widely used in computers from 1940 through 1956. Vacuum tubes were larger components and resulted in first generation computers being quite large in size, taking up a lot of space in a room. Some of the first generation computers took up an entire room.
These first generation computers relied on ‘machine language’ (which is the most basic programming language that can be understood by computers). These computers were limited to solving one problem at a time. Input was based on punched cards and paper tape. Output came out on print-outs. The two notable machines of this era were the UNIVAC and ENIAC machines – the UNIVAC is the first every commercial computer which was purchased in 1951 by a business – the US Census Bureau.
The second generation of computers saw the use of transistors instead of vacuum tubes. Transistors were widely used in computers from 1956 to 1963. Transistors were smaller than vacuum tubes and allowed computers to be smaller in size, faster in speed, and cheaper to build.
The first computer to use transistors was the TX-0 and was introduced in 1956. Other computers that used transistors include the IBM 7070, Philco Transac S-1000, and RCA 501.
The third generation of computers introduced the use of IC (Integrated Circuits) in computers. Using IC's in computers helped reduce the size of computers even more compared to second-generation computers, as well as make them faster.Nearly all computers since the mid to late 1960s have utilized IC's. While the third generation is considered by many people to have spanned from 1964 to 1971, IC's are still used in computers today. Over 45 years later, today's computers have deep roots going back to the third generation.
The fourth generation of computers took advantage of the invention of the microprocessor, more commonly known as a CPU. Microprocessors, along with integrated circuits, helped make it possible for computers to fit easily on a desk and for the introduction of the laptop.
Some of the earliest computers to use a microprocessor include the Altair 8800, IBM 5100, and Micral. Today's computers still use a microprocessor, despite the fourth generation being considered to have ended in 2010.
The fifth generation of computers is beginning to use AI (artificial intelligence), an exciting technology that has many potential applications around the world. Leaps have been made in AI technology and computers, but there is still room for much improvement.
One of the more well-known examples of AI in computers is IBM's Watson, which has been featured on the TV show Jeopardy as a contestant. Other better-known examples include Apple's Siri on the iPhone and Microsoft's Cortana on Windows 8 and Windows 10 computers. The Google search engine also utilizes AI to process user searches.