• Question: If Apple are developing a new Iphone, they need to code the Operating System for the phone to do anything. The computer they coded it on also needed to have its OS coded, and so did the one that coded that, and the one before that etc. So, how was the first computer coded if there was no computer to code it from?

    Asked by bleddy to Angela, Gabriele, Karen, Maria, Shane on 15 Nov 2013.
    • Photo: Karen McCarthy

      Karen McCarthy answered on 15 Nov 2013:

      Ha thats a great question Bleddy – complicated but great!

      The first computer is credited to Charles Babbage in 1856, and was an analytical machine, which could do multiple calculations at once. Charles had an idea for creating a machine which could do complex, correct calculations and analyse information quickly – thus the basis for a computer.

      Modern, electronic computers, were further developed by Alan Turring, another English mathematician. He used algorithms, or math code, to program his Turring machines, aka computers.

      So in more of a nutshell, computer code originates from maths and maths equations – this was developed even further to the apps and systems we use today!

    • Photo: Gabriele De Chiara

      Gabriele De Chiara answered on 17 Nov 2013:

      Great question Bleddy! and great answer Karen! I would add that if we consider a computer a tool for aiding our calculations, then the abacus invented by Sumerians around 2500 BC is probably the first. Alan Turing was one of the fathers of modern computer science, he theorised something called a universal machine (now universal Turing machine) that was a programmable machine that was able to perform any conceivable computation. Later, during WWII, he had a major role in breaking the code of the Nazi encrypting machine Enigma. Turing in fact used an electromechanical computer called “Bombe” to decipher Enigma.

      Coming back to the Apple development of iOS. This is very interesting! An operating system contains a series of functions and instructions that make the phone works. Thanks to Alan Turing, we can emulate the functioning of the phone on a desktop or a laptop and test all the features of the new OS before realising it.

      Finally, I would like to mention yet another type of computer: a quantum computer. This is a device that has been proposed for solving complicated problems in maths that would not be possibly solved on the best existing computers. Quantum computers, made of atoms and photons, are based on the laws of quantum theory: each bit (called a qubit) can be in a superposition of 0 and 1. Thus when running the calculation, each qubit being in a superposition of 0 and 1, we can have the results for each value of the inputs at once, if we have 100 qubits, that’s 2^100 calculations in one run!!! These are the things I do in my research! If you want to know more please ask a question or check here:

    • Photo: Shane Mc Guinness

      Shane Mc Guinness answered on 19 Nov 2013:

      To step away from Turring, Sumerians, algorithms and Quibits for a second….!
      Basically, the first computer programmes (for programming other computer programmes…..) were based on simple maths sequences punched into cards. So when you “opened” a programme on your computer, you actually put cardboard slips into the machine, which it recognised as instructions to do something very simple.
      Then using millions of on-off switches the computer does what you want it to.
      From there, it went on to recording things on magnet strips, which got smaller and smaller. This is the computer “memory”, but it’s all still working with the millions of simple on-off switches inside.
      It’s exactly like evolution really. Nothing came from thin air. It was all down to lots of very very very small changes, that you don’t notice at the time until one day you’ve got a computer in your pocket that could have sent people to the moon in the 1960s (this is almost true….)!!