On Steve Jobs's birthday, don't forget those who made his story possible

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2016
It's easy to forget that the empires built by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and their peers were raised on foundations laid more than a century ago. On the day Apple's co-founder would have turned 61, let's take a moment to appreciate the pioneers who came before.


A difference engine built from Babbage's original designs by the London Science Museum


The modern concept of a programmable computer was created by British engineer Charles Babbage in the late 1800s. Babbage first envisioned what he called a "difference engine," a concept which he later refined into an "analytical engine" that could handle arithmetic, branching, and loops.

The analytical engine is the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the machines we think of today as computers. Everything from a Mac to an iPhone can trace its history to the analytical engine.

Around the same time that Babbage developed the analytical engine, the world found its first programmer: a woman named Ada Lovelace, who corresponded with Babbage and is widely credited with inventing the modern interpretation of the algorithm.

Mechanical computing plodded along for the next few years -- as engineers and mathematicians like Herman Hollerith (whose company would later merge with others to become IBM), Bertrand Russel, and Raytheon founder Vannevar Bush developed many foundational principles of modern computer science -- until things began to get interesting in the 1930s.
Bill Hewlett and David Packard helped create Silicon Valley and stoke the imagination of a young Steve Jobs.
The mid-to-late-30s saw the fruits of a partnership between Bill Hewlett and David Packard (from which a young Steve Jobs would find his calling) come to life, along with the nearly simultaneous invention of the relay-based computer by George Stibitz at Bell Labs and German engineer Konrad Zuse.

World War II brought the next breakthroughs, with the later-ostracized Alan Turing leading the development of the BOMBE to break German Enigma machine codes. This led more-or-less directly to the development of Colossus, also by British intelligence services, which is largely credited as the first real programmable digital computer.

Computers leapt further into the digital age with ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania. Developed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, ENIAC was essentially the first version of what we know as a computer today.

Hardware continued to evolve, but it took Douglas Engelbart's 1968 Mother of All Demos to show what a computer could really do.

During that 90-minute presentation, Engelbart showed off the components that would form the foundation for the next 50 years of computing. Application windows, the mouse, hypertext, word processors -- all of it can be traced back to TMoAD.

From there, the path is well-trodden: Jobs, Gates, and their deputies -- Steve Wozniak, Andy Hertzfeld, Paul Allen, Rod Holt, Bill Fernandez, and others -- forged ahead and created the computing world that we know now.

This isn't to say that the contributions of Jobs and Gates should be discounted; they were the right men in the right place at the right time, ready to push humanity down the path toward personal computing. Without them, the world would undoubtedly be a different place today.

Unfortunately, the inescapable march of history means that those who came before are often forgotten. Jobs himself was fond of quoting programming pioneer Alan Kay, using Kay's insightful remark that "people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware" to frame Apple's ever-growing vertical integration.

In that spirit, let's take Jobs's birthday to remember those who made it possible for him to make his own dent in the universe.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    In that spirit, let's take Jobs's birthday to remember those who made it possible for him to make his own dent in the universe.

    On the day Apple's co-founder would have turned 61, let's take a moment to appreciate the pioneers who came before.


    Why? It's HIS birthday we're celebrating, not anyone else's. It's about Steve qua Steve. 

    We can save the pat on the back for everyone else, and those who came before, when it's APPLE'S birthday. 
    calibdkennedy1002felix01
  • Reply 2 of 22
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,267member
    Thanks for a very good framing article. You're right that those early pioneers are often forgotten and their ground-floor contributions to today's computing devices not nearly as well known and appreciated as they should be.  
    bobjohnsonnhughesbadmonkargonaut
  • Reply 3 of 22
    Why does an Apple fan site go to such lengths to minimize the significance of Apple and the work they do, but will promote rivals like Google, Microsoft, and Samsung as if they can do no wrong, rarely pointing out their weaknesses. There must have been a change in ownership or management over the last few years because this is not the Appleinsider page I signed up for. I'm sure this will be deleted and my profile block, but at this point I don't care. 

    Why not write an article about how most successful tech company today exists because of Steve and Apple's vision including Google, Microsoft, Samsung etc. as they have taken Apple's vision and tech and in many cases gained access by being a non-competing partner to learn before they become a competitor. 
    edited February 2016 calisuddenly newtonmoreckfelix01
  • Reply 4 of 22
    Very nice summary! It does glide over the theoretical foundations of computing a bit. Alan Turing didn't just make a useful machine that sped up breaking the Enigma machine. He also laid the foundational theory of the programmable finite-state automaton that became known as a 'Turing Machine.' I'd also note the contributions of Alonzo Church, Kurt Gödel, John von Neumann, Noam Chomsky, Andrey Markov and others.

    You mention Doug Engelbart's famous demo, but Ivan Sutherland and David Evan's pioneering work in computer graphics was equally influential in the development of modern human-computer interaction.

    The software that powers our modern interfaces wouldn't be possible without the likes of Edsgar Dijkstra ("goto considered harmful"), Niklaus Wirth (Algol, Pascal), Donald Knuth ("The Art of Computer Programming", TeX and more) and many, many others.

    This could go on all day -- we truly are standing on the shoulders of giants.
    moreck
  • Reply 5 of 22
    John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry should be credited for developing the first digital computer at Iowa State University beginning in 1937. The patent awarded to John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert was overturned in 1973 after it was discovered that the subject matter for their patent had been derived from John Vincent Atanasoff following a visit to Ames well before work on the ENIAC began. 

    moreckcharles1
  • Reply 6 of 22
    Nice. iI's been a long journey and Steve (and Woz) were most recently the flag bearers for innovation.  But what is most interesting is that we are just beginning the process of moving to a digital view of the world.   Just as the founders noted above would be awe struck at what we have achieved today, we will be amazed at where we will be in the future.  AI, quantum computers, and perhaps the eventual manifestation of singularity will transform the way we live, play, work and communicate.

    Happy Birthday Steve - and thanks again for your innovative genius.
    fotoformatcalimoreck
  • Reply 7 of 22
    calicali Posts: 3,495member
    Let's celebrate Jobs' birthday by celebrating everyone else instead!
    quadra 610WiseGuymoreck
  • Reply 8 of 22
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,771member
    Celebrating the birthday of people who are no longer alive is pretty ridiculous anyway.
    moreck
  • Reply 9 of 22
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,782member
    You forgot Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who is credited with writing the first compiler for man/machine interface. She also is the source of the term “bug” to describe a hardware/software failure.
    JeffA2moreckzoetmbjony0argonaut
  • Reply 10 of 22
    I'm as enamored of the history of computing as anyone, but let's also remember the genius from whom Steve Jobs learned how to market Apple products:  Polaroid founder Edwin Land.  Some years ago, Jobs told me that meeting Dr Land (twice) was a formative event in Jobs' life.  From Land, Jobs learned that innovation is a constant, and that people must be taught to appreciate the developmental process as much as the end product itself.
    JeffA2gatorguymoreckzoetmbjony0argonaut
  • Reply 11 of 22
    I can tell that some of the youngsters are a bit frustrated with all the name dropping of dead people. But if you get curious about even one of them and google them, it will have been worth it. Lots of people know about Jobs and Gates and Woz but they're the tip of a very big iceberg. It's worth looking under the water sometime! And Steve's b'day is a perfectly good excuse to learn about it (he wouldn't mind, he knew some of these folks).
    moreckargonaut
  • Reply 12 of 22
    https://youtube.com/IOs6hnTI4lw


    Can we no longer embed videos?


    edited February 2016
  • Reply 13 of 22
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,231member
    A link to Wikipedia would have sufficed.
    The link to Newtons "standing on shoulders" is a bit obvious and rather silly.
    Newton made a cynical remark, and can be compared to only a few people in history...
    moreck
  • Reply 14 of 22
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,770member
    crowley said:
    Celebrating the birthday of people who are no longer alive is pretty ridiculous anyway.
    Honoring great people on their birthday is an old, old human tradition. We have several national holidays in the US celebrating the birthdays of our famous leaders. I'd vote to have a national holiday for Steve Jobs. There is also another well known birthday celebration called Christmas. You may have heard of it.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    cali said:
    Let's celebrate Jobs' birthday by celebrating everyone else instead!
    Quid pro quo. When their birthdays come around, AppleInsider will write an article remembering Steve Jobs, am I right???
  • Reply 16 of 22
    crowley said:
    Celebrating the birthday of people who are no longer alive is pretty ridiculous anyway.
    Christmas too?
    zoetmb
  • Reply 17 of 22
    lkrupp said:
    You forgot Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who is credited with writing the first compiler for man/machine interface. She also is the source of the term “bug” to describe a hardware/software failure.
    Yes, her COBOL compiler on the Univac II was ahead of its time. It was an awesome machine for its day, with all kinds of weird and wonderful circuitry: half tube, half solid state (35L6 amplifier tubes used in record players then, that could switch in 35 nanoseconds). It had mercury tube serial registers, could do floating point math and offload to printers, tape drives with input/output synchronizers. And, of course, 4K of core memory, all of which was driven by large generators, as the Univac II was the size of a living room. It had just as much error checking circuitry as it had computational circuitry.

    Several of the main engineers left to form Control Data Corporation, and then genius Seymour Cray left to form Cray supercomputers, of which Apple bought one. It was reported to Cray that Apple had bought one, to which he asked, "What are they using it for?" He was told it was used to design Apple computers. To which he replied, "That's funny, I'm using an Apple computer to design Cray computers..." Wish I had the source of the story...
    moreckbadmonkargonaut
  • Reply 18 of 22
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,771member
    volcan said:
    crowley said:
    Celebrating the birthday of people who are no longer alive is pretty ridiculous anyway.
    Honoring great people on their birthday is an old, old human tradition. We have several national holidays in the US celebrating the birthdays of our famous leaders. I'd vote to have a national holiday for Steve Jobs. There is also another well known birthday celebration called Christmas. You may have heard of it.
    1. Tradition rarely equally sensibility. Lazy appeal to tradition.
    2. At most a 1/365 chance that is actually "his" birthday.  Factual issue.
    3. I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs was a regular human birth, nothing miraculous or virginal or starlit about it.  Analogy inadequacy.
    4. Still ridiculous, as either person had accomplished any of their accomplishments at the time of his birth.  Logical problem
    edited February 2016
  • Reply 19 of 22
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,771member
    crowley said:
    Celebrating the birthday of people who are no longer alive is pretty ridiculous anyway.
    Christmas too?
    Moreso.
    moreckargonaut
  • Reply 20 of 22
    Brian Kernighan
    Dennis Ritchie

    Ken Thompson
    Linus Torvalds
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